How are you feeling today? This week? This new year?
Emma McKee (EM): I am feeling lots of things – but I usually am! I am like the character in Mean Girls who feels too many feelings and doesn’t even go to school here. Most days it feels like too much to handle–but the beauty of being human is being able to feel strongly, and to feel many complex things at once. On the one hand, I am kind of always feeling this deep malaise vis-à-vis the state of things in general. On the other, life is so d*mn beautiful it can be overwhelming.
Emma McKee working on custom cross-stitch for Chance the Rapper’s jacket.
Are you hopeful? If you are, what is giving you a reason to be hopeful in this moment?
EM: I am! I am always hopeful even in my deepest despair. There is no change without hope, so it behooves us to have deep and strong practices & relationships with hope and optimism. It isn’t easy, and I am still learning it myself. But I truly believe we can be better and change is urgent and necessary. People doing good and hard work gives me hope. My mom calling “Law and Order” Copaganda gives me hope. There is a better world out there that we can build and there is endless hope in that idea to me.
Custom cross-stitch work for Jillionaire formerly of Major Lazer.
What are you looking forward to doing this year in your art practice?
EM: I am really looking forward to engaging with my communities more through my work. Reinvesting in the communities around me has always been an important part of my art practice but I’ve been plotting on how to do more and bigger for the people Chicago.
How can people continue to support artists in their communities?
EM: Buy their art! Go to their shows! Commission them! Hey! If you work for a giant brand don’t ask for people to work for exposure! Speak their names in the rooms where the budgets get made. I think it all depends on the artist and the community. It all starts with being engaged. Support looks different to many artists – gotta get in where you fit in!
Do you have any #protips or things you have learned in the past year that you would like to share with fellow artists?
EM: Yes. Do the work that makes you proud to do it, regardless of what anyone else is up to. Creating a wave is way more fun than catching someone else’s.
Custom jacket for Lil Yachty.
About the speakers:
Emma Mckee isn’t your average cross stitcher. Born in Kansas City, she was first introduced to the medium through her mother, a British opera singer who frequently attempted to teach Emma how to stitch during her childhood. Yet she always refused to learn, finding the British craft too antiquated—that is, until she found a way to make cross stitching work for her.
In 2014, Emma stitched her first piece: an adaptation of Will Prince’s artwork for Chance the Rapper’s song “Hey Ma.” She followed that with a jacket that Chance wore on the cover of Billboard magazine. Her portfolio expanded from there, as she firmly planted herself within Chicago’s rap community, as the scene’s preeminent—and only—hip-hop cross stitcher, earning the name Stitch Gawd.
Since 2014, she’s created countless pieces for musicians and artists both in and outside Chicago. In 2017 she started exploring large scale non-traditional cross stitch with an install for Adidas’ Originals windows. She continues to explore large-scale cross stitch most recently with a 9-foot portrait of Chairman Fred Hampton—Chairman of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party.
You can learn more about Emma’s work on her website https://stitchgawd.com/ or by following her on Instagram @thestichgawd
Adia Sykes is the Museum Manager for 21c Chicago, where she organizes a wide range of arts programming, often in collaboration with other cultural and civic organizations, all open and free to the public. Through her independent curatorial practice, Sykes has realized projects in Chicago and abroad with organizations such as the Art Institute of Chicago, Woman Made Gallery, Hyde Park Jazz Festival, Comfort Station, ACRE Projects, and Centro Opificio Siri in Italy.