If ever our metropolis needed a superhero, it’s now.
This month, the Cranbrook Art Museum comes to our rescue with Superheroes in Action. The exhibit, opening Feb. 1 and running through March 29, showcases the work of Mark Newport, whose creations focus on the softer side of caped crusaders.
Think “able to leap tall buildings in a single knit jumpsuit.” Rather than envisioning men of steel in Spandex or Kevlar, Newport — who heads the Cranbrook Academy of Art fiber department — imagines comic-book protagonists as wearing hand-knit costumes. The cozy, sweater-like uniforms recast superheroes as vulnerable characters.
Using the traditionally feminine art of knitting, Newport fashions life-size superhero garb in a way that questions the meaning of maleness. “The goal of my work is to expand on traditional roles of identity to the point that you’re just a person,” says Newport, whose costumes have been featured nationally. As a child, Newport pored over Marvel comics, learning to draw by copying illustrations. As a father, he questioned gender roles and put a twist on the concept by embroidering comic-book covers. Later, he ventured into knitting, a talent he learned from his grandmother and came to associate with security. “My mother used to knit my brother and [me] sweaters,” Newport says. “It’s a protective gesture of the feminine side.”
His own knit creations take two to five months to complete. It’s a meticulous process, he says, one that’s a quiet contradiction to the high-powered actions of superheroes. As the show reveals, both activities share a common thread. The artist explains: “Superheroes are a great metaphor for who we are as people, how we care for each other, and how we work as a community.”