A couple weeks ago, student artists took over the UCSD University Art Gallery to protest the school's decision to permanently close the gallery. The occupation included "collective actions" where artists were encouraged to showcase or create artistic protestations.
In the end, university administration decided not to close the gallery, and one piece that stood out prominently at the occupation was undergraduate student Nicole Gonzalez's woven "Caution Tape." Working under the name Inca Colors, Gonzalez fashioned the knit in 2015 to look like the yellow caution tape most often seen at places like crime scenes and construction areas. Made from secondhand yarn and hung atop the gallery's entrance, the written message of the piece was easy to decipher: "Caution Defunding Underway."
"I had to climb on the roof to install that," says Gonzalez, who moved to San Diego from Richmond, Virginia, to study studio arts at UC San Diego.
Gonzalez has been working in varying styles of textiles since she was in middle school. Growing up in Patchogue on Long Island, New York, she says she was inspired by national feminist knitting groups like Stitch 'n Bitch. Nowadays, she starts her pieces by sketching designs on graph paper, which she then uses for textile patterns. She says she "makes a lot of mistakes" along the way, but the resulting pieces are both cute and cerebral.
Gonzalez's pieces are meant to make people think. She shows off a reversible, beanie-style knit hat called "Schrödinger's Hat," based on a thought experiment in quantum physics (Schrödinger's Cat) that involves a cat that is considered simultaneously dead and alive (Editor's note: Look it up. It's complicated). There's also a matching tank-top and scarf called "100 Years of Average Global Surface Temperatures" which manage to chart a century's worth of global warming onto a piece of wearable clothing.
"I want my work to convey a distance in communication that can be bridged if you're willing to cross it," Gonzalez says, adding that she's influenced by ancient Andean textiles.
A first generation Peruvian-American, Gonzalez is working with a Lima-based fair trade company called Aptec Peru in hopes of selling her work in shops. For now, her pieces are made to order but her hope is that she can find a way of producing her wares in a fair and sustainable way.
"It can and should help the people in the region in which it's made," says Gonzalez, who spent months researching the intricacies of fair trade production. "If I'm promoting fair trade and sustainable clothing consumption that means I'm also responsible for pointing out what that means. It helps to make people think about where their clothing is coming from."