It has been a harrowing few weeks in the US for those of us who believe in bodily autonomy and the necessity of confronting climate change so that future generations have a fighting chance.
I find myself drawn more and more into activist roles that also give me the chance to express myself artistically. I’ve found that my quilts are one perfect medium for that. I’m interested in the power of messaging when presented in quilt form. Culturally, people are disarmed by quilts due to their association with family, heritage, care-giving, and warmth. I’m interested in the tension of using those associations to deliver blunt and urgent messages. Carrying these quilts in protests is part of an ongoing experiment in blurring the lines between speech, activism, and art.
Because I make them with my hands, I think they are imbued with extra love and meaning and that strengthens the message. When I march with my quilts, I think they get a little extra attention. People stop, ask if they can take a picture, and then ask if I made it myself. Sometimes they want the picture to show to a relative who also quilts or they stop to tell me stories about their grandmother’s quilts.
Do I think I’m changing any minds? Probably not. The divisions in our society are so deeply entrenched and people have dug in to the point of violence, quite literally. But I do think there is a swath of people who are frustrated, depressed, frightened, and saddened by our society’s current trajectory. I pour my love and rage into these quilts to let them know they are not alone and to urge action. And I find the experience energising and uplifting myself.
As artists, we are often expected to be subtle in our art, to not be too “on the nose.” But making a piece of protest art, just like making any placard, requires a clear, strong message with symbolic imagery and readable text. So, these quilts are a bit different from my abstract paintings and embroideries. They are not lesser art because of that. In fact, I think in this moment, we artists cannot afford to blunt our message. As a creative person, don’t I have an obligation to bring my art to bear on the crises at hand?
This is my latest quilt, which I carried in the Women’s March to Risk Arrest on July 9, 2022. My message is in response to the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe Vs. Wade, which guaranteed a right to abortion for my whole life. There is much to be said about this decision and its antediluvian, flawed reasoning which I will leave to the experts. Ultimately, I believe that forcing people to go through an unwanted pregnancy and birth is barbaric and, in too many cases, injurious, traumatic, or fatal. I also believe that the efforts to ban abortion (and other reproductive rights) reduce women to the role of incubators instead of recognising their full humanity and right to self-determination. That is why the center image is of hands, heart, spirit and mind. Because we are much more than that.
I also marched with my most recent climate quilt in response to the Supreme Court decision West Virginia Vs. EPA, which sets a precedence of severe limitations on the government’s ability to regulate greenhouse gasses as we enter a new era of climate catastrophe.
It feels to me like this is a singularly precarious moment for democracy around the world. Authoritarianism is on the rise as democratic voices are silenced and votes are diluted, including in this country. But I also have optimism that something’s got to give. The scales will tip in favor of justice and humanity may have a very bright future ahead. We just need to embrace it and fight hard for it, probably for the rest of our lives.