Black sheets of paper, cut with surgical exactitude, show nature and family, labor and leisure, community and domestic living. A father sharing his skateboard with a helmeted son. A woman, knee deep in a shady lagoon. Mom dancing with baby.
This might sound surprisingly tame for the work of a riot grrrl, but in Nikki McClure: Cutting Her Own Path, 1996-2011, currently on view at the Museum of Contemporary Craft, you see the DIY bird that flew from third-wave feminism's trenches and landed "on it." Works dating back to McClure's earliest paper-cut days are present, spanning originals, zines, calendars, album art, and other commercial design projects—plus handwritten notes and sketches, and the finished versions of McClure's acclaimed children's books and novelty journals.
Alas, people don't go on reclaiming hate speech in lipstick on their stomachs forever. But despite all the growing up that's been done in the last 20 years, the exhibit does explore McClure's riot grrrl connection. Album artwork for Sleater-Kinney, Sarah Dougher, and the Crabs provide examples of McClure's work for K Records. A few zines and letterpress artist books also signify the formative years of the '90s feminist movement.
Even with these examples, you have to go back further than Cutting Her Own Path's target years to clearly read McClure's tame posture as the didacticism of a persistent activist.
Let's step back to August 20, 1991. Olympia, Washington. The International Pop Underground Convention—arguably the coming out of the riot grrrl movement. McClure performs alongside genre-defining acts like Bratmobile, Jean Smith, Kathleen Hanna, and others. The movement grows quickly, to Washington, DC, and overseas, and by 1994 its associates are offensively characterized by mainstream media as silly girls shrieking in their underwear. Come 1996, pioneer riot grrrl acts like Bikini Kill are releasing their final albums.
So that's where Cutting Her Own Path begins, at the disputable end. Positivity-oriented projects replace angst. McClure's themed calendars reinforce a supportive presence in the community; an active personal and family life. Books do the same—How to Cook a Perfect Day, McClure's politicized cooking text, emphasizes eating local.
While things can get a little "Martha Stewart Celebrates Kwanzaa" at times, Cutting Her Own Path is proof positive that McClure is using riot grrrl's momentum to constructive ends.