Stitching sex toys and nudes galore, Hannah’s not only challenging the traditional reputation of needlework but also fighting sexual stigma though tongue-in-cheek stitches that carry a big (and sexy) message.
If you follow Hannah on social media, you’ll know her work reflects her extremely open disposition. Her embroideries are autobiographical and socio-political, exploring her gender, sexuality, mixed ethnicity, and feminism through a medium that has been traditionally labeled as “women’s work.”
The juxtaposition of modern sexual imagery like dick pics and vibrators with the dated stereotypes of embroidery is both a personal and political choice: it rebrands a medium which has been largely excluded from the fine art canon because of sexism, and reconnects her to her Hindu ancestry through India’s history of textiles and attitudes toward sex.
We caught up with Hannah to learn more about her work, what inspires her and what sex positivity means to her.
Why embroidery, as opposed to another medium?
“I learned that [embroidery] has been excluded a lot from art history due to sexism and classism, and obviously the more I’ve gotten into feminism it’s kind of snowballed. I feel like because it’s been left out of art history it’s a really powerful medium to express ‘out there’ ideas.”
Your work explores a lot of topics that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with embroidery, like masturbation. Was this contrast intentional?
“Embroidery has been used a lot to make subversive art about sex because they’re quite opposite. Embroidery is stereotyped to be very delicate and feminine, and sex is shamed, it can be hard. They’re not something that is usually seen together.
You’ve said before that your work is autobiographical, how does sexuality come into play?
“I’m a sexual person; my art just stems from being horny! Being naughty genuinely improves my mood. I also come from a Caribbean-Asian background, which is hugely shaming of sexuality, but my family is also Hindu, so they’re a bit more open-minded and understanding. There’s the Kama Sutra in Indian culture so [sex] isn’t completely alien, but I feel like there is still a lot of judgment. So I feel like it’s really important for me to continue making art about sex.
When it comes to sex and pleasure, what do you hope to showcase through your work?
“Recently I’ve been really inspired by Kama Sutra, trying to explore my Indian identity and ancestry through the lens of sexuality. I think a lot of cultures do shame sex but a lot of Eastern and South Asian cultures are very sexually expressive. I’m really enjoying taking inspiration from that because a lot of it is really dirty!”
You’re very candid about sex on your social media. Do you think it’s important to be open? “It’s really important to me because I feel like social media can be really fake and shallow. I still feel a lot of shame when I tweet horny stuff so, it’s still something I’m actively trying to break through.”
What does sex positivity mean to you?
“It means being free to express yourself without shame, especially from yourself because I feel like a lot of women still have internalized shame. And not shaming others for what they want to do with their bodies.”
Olivia Cassano is a London-based freelance women’s writer, intersectional feminist and self-proclaimed dildo diva.