NBCLX is teaming up with artists from across the country to create re-imagined “I Voted” stickers for the 2020 election. The latest artist to join our campaign is Maggie Thompson, a textile artist from Minneapolis.
Thompson’s take on an “I Voted” design was particularly unique. She created a knit hat that includes the words “I Voted” and nods to her Indigenous heritage. Thompson explained to NBCLX’s Janine Doyon that the history of suppression of the Native vote makes it that much more important that her community show up and demand that their voices be heard.
You can find Thompson’s art on Instagram at @makwa_studio and on her website. To find her digital sticker and our entire collection of artist-created "I Voted" stickers, search “LXtion2020” on Giphy. Share them on social media to tell everyone you voted!
This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Thompson: My name is Maggie Thompson and I'm a textile artist currently living and working out of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Doyon: How would you describe the stuff that you make?
Thompson: So the work that I create is textiles, which can be anything from knitwear to a mixed media textile piece. So for my knitwear, I bring in subtle cultural references and work a lot with color and pattern, using different wools, material and cottons to create hats and cowls. And then also for my fine art textiles, I use a lot of mixed media elements – so whether it's working with photographs and weaving them, or laser cutting certain objects and embedding them into some pockets, or photo transfers or 3D printed objects, or sometimes I'll assemble more concrete items like bottle caps.
Doyon: So what is it about working with textiles that attracted you to working with that particular medium?
Thompson: What I love [about] working with textiles is taking something smaller and building it into something larger. So, kind of the obsession, the patience, of taking yarn and weaving it into fabric. I like the mathematics behind it, thinking about the different structural techniques, figuring out how to combine different materials and how they interact with each other, working with colors and pattern building. And then just also having something ... so small and then you create something large scale and it's just the feeling, the gratification, that you did that all by hand ... You have an immediate gratification.
Doyon: So let's talk about the piece that you made for this project. Can you describe a little bit about what you created?
Thompson: So the piece that I created for this project is a beanie that says "I voted" and the pattern on it is influenced by beadwork and quillwork patterns that are abstracted, with the idea of bringing function to art, so people can wear the beanie and help to get the message out [about] their participation in this election.
Doyon: What's the process to actually create the piece?
Thompson: So when I'm creating a knitwear piece, I usually either sketch it out or draft it up in a program like Excel and just literally do color blocks representing the different stitches. And then I have a punch card that I use, and then I'll draw out my pattern. It's a 24-stitch repeat. And then there's a special tool where you cut out holes and then that feeds into the knitting machine. And that's how you get your pattern selection. So it's it's a two-color pattern ... but you can play with more by striping different colors together. And then usually I'll create different swatches, testing different colorways. And then once I'm happy with something, then I'll go ahead and make the final hat piece.
Doyon: Why do textiles matter to you as an Indigenous artist? How does textile art help connect you to your cultural identity?
Thompson: As an Indigenous artist, I use textiles as a tool for education in order to learn about different traditional art forms or patterns, designs – also different stories about history, family. So it becomes an educational tool for myself to further [strengthen] my identity. And then it also becomes something that I can share with the larger community.
Doyon: So what message do you hope that people take away from your beanie?
Thompson: The message that I hope that people take away from the beanie that I made is just a reminder to get out and vote. And then also feeling the camaraderie – I think when people wear something that says "I voted," they can feel a connection. They see that people are out, that they're being active, they're participating. And then it's just also a small, gentle reminder for themselves that they should also do the same.
Doyon: Are there issues that you feel passionately about that could be impacted by voting this year?
Thompson: There are a ton of issues that could be impacted by voting this year. They include issues surrounding racial inequality, gender inequality, issues with the environment. You think about health care, law enforcement.... So if any of these issues are important to you, I think it should be very important for you to go out and vote and also to talk to those in your community and talk about getting them to vote too.
Doyon: What does voting mean to you?
Thompson: As an Indigenous person. I think it's important. You think about the suppression of the Native vote in the past and how important it is to show up ... I think a lot of Natives suffer from invisibility... For Native voters to show up and vote, it demands that recognition and acknowledgment... And for non-Native communities showing up to vote, it's also an opportunity for them to also create change for Indigenous communities as well.