Last year when the Chicago Blackhawks were charging towards their first Stanley Cup title since 1961, fans of the hockey team put a Blackhawks jersey on the statue of Chicago Bulls basketball icon Michael Jordan outside the United Center in Chicago. It made for an amusing (if uncontroversial) image: the juxtaposition between Jordan’s typical pose—floating through the air as a basketball player—mildly co-opted by the image of Jordan floating through the air as a hockey player (in a white hockey helmet, no less). He was still a revered Chicago male athlete striking a masculine, warrior-like pose. It’s not like someone had draped a pink Philadelphia Flyers jersey over his shoulders. That gesture, while arguably more amusing, would have reflected something else entirely. Namely, the attempted emasculation of a revered male athlete.
This, in a sense, is what Jessie Hemmons has done in Philadelphia, where she recently covered the iconic statue of Rocky Balboa in a pink yarn sweater that reads “Go See the Art,” a reference to the nearby Philadelphia Museum of Art. Hemmons, 24, admitted to The New York Times that she “yarn bombed” the bronze statue because she found it “too big, too macho, and too touristy.”
Yarn bombing is the practice (or art, depending on who you ask) of taking cold, sterile objects—statues, mailboxes, sculptures—and enclosing them in bright-colored yarns, creating a striking contrast to the object’s original look or purpose. Some practitioners have different theories about this burgeoning craft, and even what it should be called.
“Charging Bull,” the iconic Wall Street sculpture, was adorned with crochet by an artist named Olek last December. But don’t tell her she “yarn bombed” it.
“I don’t yarn bomb, I make art,” the 33-year-old told The Times. “Lots of people have aunts or grandmas who paint. Do you want to see that work in the galleries? No. The street is an extension of the gallery. Not everyone’s work deserves to be in public.”
Yarn bombing started innocently enough in 2005 when, on a whim, a Texas boutique owner named Magda Sayeg knitted a blue-and-pink cozy for the door handle of her shop. People liked it and often told her how much they admired her handiwork. Emboldened by the reaction, Sayeg, who is considered the “mother of yarn bombing,” applied the technique to stop signs and other structures in Houston.
Within a few years she had tagged dozens of lampposts and stop signs and assembled a crew of fellow yarn bombers she called Knitta Please.
(Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.)
Soon she was commissioned to do other projects, and word of her creations—and of yarn-bombing in general—spread. It’s now nothing short of a worldwide phenomenon, with yarn bombers popping up in Europe, Asia, and Australia. In a way it’s a response to graffiti-bombing, with the added bonus of not rising to the level of destructive vandalism. The yarn, after all, can be quickly removed if someone complains; otherwise it will simply disintegrate on its own in a short period of time.
“Street art and graffiti are usually so male dominated,” Hemmons told The Times. “Yarn bombing is more feminine. It’s like graffiti with grandma sweaters.”
If Rocky Balboa can get yarn bombed in Philadelphia, no statue of a male athlete (fictional or otherwise) is safe. Maybe someone will even yarn bomb Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s statue in Los Angeles. Ya know, if and when he ever gets one.