Tea'd Off Knitters Get Cozy With Oakland Artwork

Photo: Knitta, a guerilla knitting movement, has just hit Oakland. A group of knitters recently covered part of a controversial statue with a tea cozy, an act some consider to be vandalism.
Allyse Bacharach/Photo
Knitta, a guerilla knitting movement, has just hit Oakland. A group of knitters recently covered part of a controversial statue with a tea cozy, an act some consider to be vandalism.

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Berkeley city officials said they plan to remove a knit "tea cozy" covering a controversial piece of art this week, citing laws against vandalism.

About two weeks ago, a group of knitters from Oakland - loosely associated with a global "guerilla knitting movement" - crafted a yarn sleeve to cover the letter "T" in the "HereThere" statue on the Berkeley-Oakland border.

The eight-foot-tall metal installment, featuring the word "here" on the Berkeley side of the border and the word "there" on the Oakland side, has had a history of controversy.

The statue was commissioned by the city of Berkeley in 2005, referencing a famous quote from poet Gertrude Stein. Upon returning to Oakland and being unable to find her childhood home, Stein wrote that "the trouble with Oakland is that when you get there, there isn't any there there."

Some interpret this as a commentary on the inability to return to the past, while others see it as a derogatory slur against Oakland.

"The fact of the matter is that Gertrude Stein did not mean it as an insult, but it is perceived that way (in Oakland)," said Sile Convery, founder of Knit-One-One, a knitting shop across the street from the statue. "Every time someone from Oakland sees the word 'there,' it's perceived as an insult,"

Berkeley officials have insisted the cozy be removed this week, but some like Convery said they feel the city is overreacting.

"The artist (of the statue) is totally behind it," she said. "It's been fun. It's made out of natural fabric, and it will disintegrate on its own without the city having to lift a finger."

Steve Gillman, one of the two artists who designed the statue, has said he believes the city should stay out of the matter.

Berkeley's civic arts coordinator, Mary Ann Merker, declined to comment on the matter.

Those who knitted the cozy have been linked to the global network of renegade knitters called "Knitta."

Knitta was founded in Houston by Magda Sayeg in 2005. Sayeg has become a celebrity in the knitting world for her involvement in the guerrilla movement.

"It's a worldwide movement," Convery said. "The wonderful thing about it is that it's very underground, very loose, very fun."

Knitta knitters create cozies and covers made of yarn for all sorts of city objects. Street signs, door knobs, and telephone poles are some of the most common. Sayeg recently knitted a cozy for a Smart Car for an exhibition in Rome.

Knitta has drawn much inspiration from the hip-hop movement, with knitters adopting aliases such as P-Knitty and Knotorious N.I.T. Often, they attach phrases like "Knitta please" or "Whaddup knitta" to their projects.

Though some works like the tea cozy have been deemed vandalism, others say the movement creates non-destructive forms of street art.

"I loved (the tea cozy)," said Christina Stork, founder of Article Pract, a knitting shop in Oakland. "I look forward to more craft-based statements."


Contact Gianna Albaum at [email protected]

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