homicide quilt

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  • One of the amazing things aboutneedlework is that it can be usedin so many different ways to ex-plain a host of emotions. Whileoften done in groups, needlework isprimarily a solitary endeavor. How-ever, the size of quilts and theirunique construction methods createspace for a group of quilters to workon the same project at once. Open-ing up a space for group work alsocreates a setting for dialogue to un-fold between the stitches.

    When the stitchwork beingmade brings up difficult and compli-cated feelings, the space between

    the stitches can help participants process theirthoughts. This was the case with Untitled (Homi-cide Quilt), a 2014 project created by artistRachel Wallis and Thelma Uranga, the founder ofthe Chicago stitching collective El Stitch y Bitch.Using information from reporters, the quiltnames 500 individuals killed by gun violence inChicago in 2013.

    Some of the victims families learnedabout the quilt and came to see it at the 2014Craft/Work show in Chicago. Wallis met the fam-ily of one victim, a moment in which she hopes

    66 Surface Design Journal 2015 Surface Design Association, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

    informed source

    Homicide Quilt

    by Betsy Greer

  • 2015 Surface Design Association, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited. 67Summer/Fall2015

    that the love and care that went into [the quilt]was clear in this stitched remembrance of theirloved one.

    The slowness of handwork adds to thepoignancy of projects such as this. When stitchingthe names of people from your own city, the taskbecomes even more personal. Wallis embroideredthe name of an individual killed on her block;other members of the collective had similar expe-riences. She was frustrated, however, that the re-lated media coverage often did not highlight theprojects political framework around inequality inChicago.

    With this in mind while working on thehomicide quilt, Wallis came across informationthat led to her next project. Using police depart-ment statistics and information from indepen-dent researchers, Wallis discovered that morethan 100 people were killed by the Chicago PoliceDepartment since 2008. However, those names[werent] made public anywhere.

    Wallis is currently working with aChicago non-profit called We Charge Genocide, agrassroots multi-generation organization dedi-cated to looking into murder cases that involvethe police. The non-profit is run by volunteers, andits website clearly states the ethos upon which itwas createdto end police violence relies on

    two primary strategies: education and documen-tation. Together, Wallis and We Charge Genocidewill be holding sewing circles around Chicagowhere participants can embroider, appliqu, andquilt panels with the name of an individual left offthe list, as part of a new quilt entitled Gone ButNot Forgotten. The aim is to involve communitymembers, getting them to talk amongst them-selves about their own experiences, as well as toengage people in a broader dialogue about thisissue as they create a tangible memorial to-gether.

    Work like this gives the voiceless amouthpiece. By inviting viewers to read victimsnames spelled out in stitches, the pieces reiteratethe fact that each statistic is made up of real peo-ple, not just numbers. By forcing the audience toacknowledge these names, these quilts help tohighlight their importance, their existence, andthe tragic loss of their shortened lives.www.rachelawallis.comwww.craftworkproject.com

    Betsy Greer writes about crafts and stitches all manner of things in Durham, NC. She is the editor of *Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2014). www.craftivism.com

    *To read a review of Craftivism, turn to page 64.

    ABOVE: RACHELWALLIS (WITH COMMUNITY MEMBERS) Gone But Not Forgotten (Detail of community quilt project in progress) Fabric, thread, hand embroidery, appliqu, machine sewing, finished squares are 10" x 10", 2015.

    LEFT, TOP: RACHELWALLIS (WITH COMMUNITY MEMBERS) Gone But Not Forgotten (Detail of community quilt project in progress) Victim biography withpicture, fabric, thread, hand embroidery, appliqu, machine sewing, finished squares are 10" x 10", 2015. Photos: Rachel Wallis.

    LEFT, BOTTOM: THELMA URANGA AND RACHELWALLIS (WITH COMMUNITY MEMBERS) Untitled (Homicide Quilt) Fabric, thread, hand embroidery,machine appliqu, 72" x 48", 2014. Photo: Thelma Uranga. With detail. Photo: Joe Tighe.