Can knitting be an art? Kate Just responds with a powerful “yes”

Kate Just’s artistic moment Eureka was born in heartbreak.

Just, 47, a queer-identified artist, left the United States in 1996 with her Australian partner Paula. She was studying painting at the Victorian College of the Arts when, in 2001, her brother Billy died. Back in Connecticut, her mother MaryEllen, whom she had never seen knit, taught her – and they stitched together in their grief.

Kate Just in her studio in December.Credit:Tessa van der Riet

Back at the VCA, Just started knitting his work instead of painting it – and ever since. She started with Something for the ladies, male codpieces in baby blue that refer to body, gender and conformity. She moved onto a life-size sculpture of her father, a former police officer. Uniform [Dad], 2002, honing her skills in a medium she finds perfectly suited to her artistic voice.

And his perseverance was rewarded. After eight years of unsuccessfully applying for major grants, Just says his 2022 Australian Council for the Arts Fellowship for the Visual Arts justifies decades of artistic practice. It is a victory for the textile arts, in particular knitting, and the use of this gendered craft as an artistic medium.

It demonstrates, says Just, that knitting is a valid conceptual art practice. “Women who make crafts in the art world have not been valued as much as men who make crafts. It’s acknowledging the medium, but acknowledging that I’ve actually translated its power into my work,” she says.

recent sound Anonymous was a woman – 140 knitted panels proclaiming “Anonymous was a woman” – inspired by a quote from Virginia Woolf A room of one’s own, challenging how women’s authorship has been deemed inferior to men’s and rendered invisible (it was exhibited at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art last year and a panel of the work will appear in a library of Victoria exhibition later this year).

Anonymous Was a Woman (detail) by Kate Just, 2019-21, installation view.

Anonymous Was a Woman (detail) by Kate Just, 2019-21, installation view.Credit:Anna Kucera

This followed his acclaim feminist fan series of 40 tributes to portraits of female artists. These, from Frida Kahlo to Pussy Riot, were supplemented by research and Instagram posts on each artist: social media is an integral part of Just’s work.

Just left the direction of the VCA’s MFA program. During the two years of the $80,000 fellowship, she will teach part-time, undertake exhibitions, residencies and tours, further developing her core themes including feminism, gender and equality. She wants to “do work that generates hope and change”.