Victoria & Albert Museum marks International Women’s Day with acquisition of a pussyhat

Written by

A simple pink knitted hat became a powerful symbol on January 21, when millions of women participated in Women’s Marches around the world, following President Trump’s inauguration. Now one of the pussyhats has been acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Pussyhat enters the collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

The Pussyhat that roared?

Today the venerable Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) in London announced the acquisition of a pussyhat.

The V&A is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design; it was founded in 1852 and named after Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert.

The pussyhat is a pink, hand-knitted yarn hat conceived by four Los Angeles women — Jayna Zweiman, an architect; Krista Suh, a screenwriter; Kat Coyle, owner of The Little Knittery in Atwater Village; and Aurora Lady, an illustrator.

This deceptively simple design, shaped to appear as if it had kittycat ears, subverted little-girl pink, reappropriated “pussy,” and became an instant symbol of the Women’s March that took place January 21, 2017, the day after President Trump’s inauguration.

Now the museum has recognized its iconic status and placed it on display in its Rapid Response Collecting gallery, which explores “how current global events, political changes and pop cultural phenomena impact, or are influenced by, design, art, architecture and technology.”

Excerpt from German Womens Day poster, March 1914 (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

The acquisition was announced today to tie in with International Women’s Day, the global event that celebrates women’s achievements – from the political to the social – while calling for gender equality. IWD dates back to the early 1900s and is not affiliated with any one group.

Rather, its goal is to bring together governments, women’s organizations, corporations and charities, through a day of arts performances, talks, rallies, networking events, conferences and marches.

This year’s IWD takes place just weeks after millions of people took to the streets at Women’s Marches globally.

At those marches the color pink dominated because many wore the pink pussyhat that they had either knitted for themselves following a pattern created by the designers, or was knitted for them.

This year pink has largely mutated to red, a color long associated with the labor movement and chosen by organizers to represent “revolutionary love and sacrifice.”

But pussyhats were still being donned by women from marchers in Tokyo to a parliamentarian in Scotland (below.)

After the Women’s March, DnA interviewed architect Jayna Zweiman, one of the four co-creators of the hat.

Subsequently Jayna visited KCRW, still wearing her chunky knit hat, to discuss in greater depth some of the issues raised by the making and wearing of the hat, and the unique vantage point of an architectural education in thinking about activism.

Following are excerpts from that second interview:

Krista-Jayna-byBreelynBurns (1)
Pussyhat Project co-founders Krista Suh, a screenwriter, and Jayna Zweiman, an architect, both based in Los Angeles (photo: Breelyn Burns). (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

DnA: You are still wearing your hat?

Jayna Zweiman: I’m still wearing my pussy hat pretty much everywhere. It’s L.A. and it’s been cold. So there’s a really practical reason to be wearing it.

And we’ve been encouraging people to keep wearing their hats loudly and proudly. So if you’re walking your dog or going to the grocery store or riding the bus, if you’re wearing your pussy hat you’re really projecting a symbol that you support women’s rights and you’re keeping that in the visual conversation.

And I think we’ve seen that already which is really humbling and really wonderful. So I really do hope that this continues in the future with some serious power.

DnA: For you the hat is very much a symbol of women’s rights. However, do you feel that it has gone beyond that? There’s a march coming up that’s going to be about science. Are you getting requests for pussyhats for the science march?

JZ: We are. We’re getting requests from people who say, I didn’t know this project was happening, I love this project, how do I get one?

And I think what we’re seeing is that the women’s march was really a beginning for political activism and I think that’s really empowering for a lot of people and it’s really exciting. People are becoming activists for the first time. This isn’t just a one month thing, this is becoming, I think, for a lot of people a way of life.

I’ve read from people that they make their calls to their senators while they’re brushing their teeth, so it’s part of their daily hygiene. And I think that it’s really an incredible thing because it’s how you can be active as a citizen in your daily life.

And I think by wearing this Pussyhat I feel more like I am a citizen because the way that I get to interact with people is so much more personal and so much richer as well.

Scottish parliament member Christina McKelvie wears a pussyhat for International Women’s Day debate (courtesy The National.)(The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

DnA: Even though you can choose the shade of pink, the hat is still pink. It’s still incredibly vivid. Do you ever think, oh, this pink, perhaps there’s too much pink here, why don’t we go brown or something?

JZ: It’s amazing to me how much people have reacted to the color pink. Pink historically was actually a color for boys and blue was for girls. And then over the decades there was a switch. And I think pink is really associated with the feminine and this is a very unapologetically feminine kind of color. And so there’s a certain playfulness to it and a certain kind of joy to the color pink. And I think that it’s good sometimes to have a little bit of a sense of play and humor when dealing with things that are really, really serious.

DnA: The design was extremely strong and at the same time not offensive. There are vulgarities that have come out of this presidential campaign and presidency and there have been vulgarities thrown back; it seems as if you created something that doesn’t alienate people with that kind of language that might be off-putting — so you might be able to converse with people who might not share your political views, but you don’t offend them with the visuals. 

JZ: I would completely agree with that statement. When I first started this project back in December I was getting to know a woman who was a Trump supporter from Waco, Texas, and a lovely person. And I think all of us have to be careful to try to have personal conversations, to reach out to form some kind of consensus.

And I talked to her about the project because she really liked my hat and when I explained it was for the Women’s March she said, well, women are really important. And that was her response. And I feel like there are a lot of people who really want to want to support other people but they don’t necessarily do it in the same way, but I think people essentially want to be good to each other.

The color of womanhood? The window display at Ten Women crafts store on Main Street Santa Monica, on International Women’s Day (photo: Frances Anderton.) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

DnA: One of the particularly interesting aspects of this project is your background as an architect.

JZ: Well, I’ve always sort of been on this kind of fringe part of architecture, where I love building and understanding how buildings are put together. But I’ve also looked for opportunities for [creating] public intimacy. So after graduate school I joined a startup that [created] urban mobile scavenger hunts, so we [really looked at] how people move through the city and how you can create a flashmob as a reason to move through this game.

And this pussyhat project really looks at the physical manifestation of the hat and the groups of hats.

But it’s also how people are moving through cities and how they’re meeting each other and how they’re building community. And it’s sometimes physical; they’re meeting in spaces and creating spaces, but it’s also [virtual], about the relationships that they’re building as well. It’s about public intimacy. It’s about the digital and the physical spaces.

And I think architects really make places for people to be and for things to happen. So in that way this is like an abstracted form of architecture, and I think designers really have a place to play in terms of activism.

Listen to the broadcast interview with Jayna Zweiman here.