AN INDELICATE ART

Faith Newcombe

Giselle Hyam is a third-year philosophy student by day and a knicker-embroidering sloganist by night. Aptly named the ‘Indelicates’, her range of alliterative underwear recreates the infamous image of dictator and (regrettably) elected leader alike. A gleeful skim through her Instagram reveals some salacious stitchings of Chairman Mao 'on my minge', Fidel 'on my fanny' Castro and, of course, several pussy protests against Donald Trump. I talk to the artist herself about sleeveless shirts, pepperoni pizza, and bleeding all over the patriarchy.

 

How long does it take you to embroider one pair of Indelicates?

I'm getting faster. At the beginning, I spent two hours slaving over the worst depiction of the queen, most of which was spent trying to thread the sodding needle. But these days it’s between two and four hours, depending on how complex the design is.

 

In December, you posted that first ever attempt at embroidery on Instagram and one comment reads, “Blimey, and you the girl who made a shirt in sewing at school where the arms fell off before you got it home”, which I loved. What made you persevere?

ah that was my mum – supportive as ever! I'm famously terrible at sewing, I think predominantly because at the age of 14 I decided that, of course, I knew better than the teacher and would do it my way. I proceeded to break three sewing machines in a row and was promptly banned from them. But I think I'm one of those people that always needs to be fiddling with something. I interviewed another Bristol-based pant embroiderer just before Christmas, and thought ‘hey, that sounds like a cool thing to do’. I tried it and it went awfully but, stubborn as I am, I refused to be beaten by a needle and a pair of pants.

 

What gave you the inspiration to depict dictators/socialist leaders? My favourite is Fidel Castro, I guess he’s a bit of both.

I mean, this is the question I think everyone is asking. I started doing it all originally as a Secret Santa gift for my friend. There's a group of us who’ve done Secret Santa for the past seven years but this Christmas, completely skint, I embroidered each of our friends’ faces onto a separate pair of pants for her which, surprisingly, she actually wears. She recently messaged to let me know that she had perioded on our friend’s face. But after making those, I was really enjoying it, and I had all this thread and pants lying around so one thing lead to another. The logical thing to do seemed to be Fidel on my Fanny.

 

I think getting period blood on them completes them. There’s something to be said for taking this taboo thing – a very scary thing, too, in this political climate, especially for women – and laughing at it. Your Trump knickers, for example, feel like a great and boisterous reclamation of the pussy, like a ‘beware the dog’ sign but for autonomy and sexuality à la ‘be careful what you wish for’. And using a traditionally feminine and, thus, criminally underappreciated art form – literally and figuratively sullying its prudish heritage.

This is where my obsession with embroidering Trump’s face comes from. I mean, it is fun to stab him in the face multiple times, but it also feels like I'm doing something a bit naughty. I feel that, when I’m making them, I feel quite empowered. I don't mean putting him in his place, that's not it at all, but it's like ‘I can own you, you are a joke to me and I will wear you on my vagina, you complete and utter wanker’. I can't quite articulate what it is that feels, for me at least, so subversive about it. A traditionally female craft, on a pair of big white granny pants, depicting the one very powerful man who has become the symbol for oppression and patriarchy and general vileness. But also, it is poking fun at the system, at the ridiculousness of it all. And actually, the response from men in particular has been so varied: some love it, a few just don't get it. My stepdad asked me why I don't do flowers or something pretty; I just laughed at him and continued sewing a slice of peperoni pizza onto a vagina.

You’ve done more light-hearted stuff, too, right? Like portraits and compromising images of naked women with teabags and that infamous slice of pizza.

Yeah, those are requests from people. With the pizza one, she literally just asked for some pizza pants…I don't think she quite realised what was coming her way. A couple of people have told me about their boyfriends’ reactions. One loved them, and the other just went 'yeah they're cool, but can you not wear them?'

 

So, does everyone who has a pair wear them, or is displaying them more common? In other words, I suppose, would you call them arts or crafts?

I think most people just display them. One person has framed them, another has them hanging up in her room. I'm not sure I take them seriously enough to call them art, although that is generally the response I've got. Maybe I should just suck it up and call them art? My housemates have been trying to convince me to display them at an open exhibition.

 

Any plans to branch out in the future?

Well, I'm going to crack on with Corbyn on my Cunt tonight. I'm kind of torn between going ironic patriotic – like old school punk, Prince Philip on your arse, a corgi in your crack, scenes from Planet Earth II, that sort of thing – but I'm also really enjoying the more political route. They will always be protest pants, and I will never stop embroidering Trump.

 

What if he gets impeached?

Then I will save a lot of orange thread.

 

For more updates on Giselle’s work, follow her Instagram account @gisellestorms

helicon.magazine@gmail.com

© Helicon Magazine 2019

University of Bristol