Advocacy Quilts: an Art Exhibit With a Social Conscience at LBI Foundation

By PAT JOHNSON | Aug 13, 2015
Photo by: Pat Johnson The Belize Forest Quilt with squares made in 2011 by women from the Q’eqchi Mayan Village of Midway, Belize. The women embroidered animals and plants of their rain forest that are threatened by oil exploration.

The exhibit “Advocacy Quilts: A Voice for the Voiceless,” currently at the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences in Loveladies, is a reminder that there are many parts of the world where war, poverty, human rights violations and ignorance are still in force. But there are also good organizations around the world that are working to help the victims of these conditions.

One such organization is the Advocacy Project, which started back in 1998 with a mission to help marginalized communities and their advocates to take action against injustice. Through the years, the nonprofit has worked with over 120 community partners and recruited volunteers, called Peace Fellows, to tell their stories through websites, video, photos and advocacy quilts.

The advocacy quilts are produced, square-by-square, by the people in the marginalized communities, then sent to an experienced quilter in the United States who puts them together as a quilt.

The AIDS Quilts were probably the first use of quilting as a message board for social justice, as it brought attention to those who at one time were marginalized in U.S. society. It was very effective in focusing attention on the need for political action, research and medicine.

The advocacy quilts run the gamut of war victims, victims of sexual brutality, and global warming.

Seven quilts are dedicated to the “disappeared” of Peru. The “Nunca Mas” quilts mean “Never Again,” which continues to be a rallying cry for those families who lost loved ones who were captured during the 20-year war between Maoist rebels and the government militia. The quilts bear the names of some of the estimated 69,000 native people, mostly men and boys, who were captured by both sides and “disappeared,” many executed to keep them from joining the other side. The war started in 1980; violence continued to break out as recently as 2014.

Two quilts made by Maasai women of Kenya depict some of the barbaric rituals that still exist in the culture. The practice of circumcising young girls (cutting the labia and clitoris) is thought to keep women from straying from their husbands since sex is not pleasurable. Other practices include arranged marriages and divesting widows of property unless they marry the deceased’s brother or other relative.

One of the quilts includes the positive things that a girls boarding school, the Kakenya Center for Excellence, is doing to make opportunities for those children. Squares contain pictures of a computer, a sewing machine and the logo “Education is Freedom.”

Thirty children rescued from a life spent in the garbage dumps of New Delhi picking trash for recycling made quilt squares by drawing on them with markers. Despite the hardship they have known, the children still drew flowers and clouds and houses for the Chintan Waste-pickers Quilt. The children now live at the Ghazipar School.

Victims of sexual violence created the First Alafia Mali Quilt during the 2012 conflict in northern Mali. The squares depict women fleeing from soldiers and gun-toting, uniformed men. The women are recovering at a center operated by a community-based organization.

The Srebrenica Diaspora Quilt was made by members of the Bosnian Family women’s group who lost relatives in the 1995 massacre.

Disabled people in Uganda made the Gulu Disability quilt; machete-wielding militants from warring factions disabled some of them. Today, the quilt-makers are part of the Gulu Disabled Persons Union.

Not all the quilts are about bloodshed or grieving. The Belize Forest Quilt was made by Mayan women of Belize to bring attention to the treasures of their rain forest, which is being threatened by oil exploration.

The River Gypsy quilt introduces the wider world to a group of people who live on an island on the Meghna River but are threatened by flooding caused by global warming.

A quilt assembled from squares created by recipients of micro loans in Bangladesh is colorful and uplifting. The squares show the many types of small businesses people were able to create after getting small loans of a hundred dollars or less: chicken farming, fish farming, a tree nursery, sewing machines and pottery exports.

The quilts show us that, yes, the world is weary with war and exploitation, but there are good people doing many works of charity and advocacy.

On Friday, Aug. 14, Lain Guest, executive director for the Advocacy Project, will give a gallery tour and talk from 5 to 7 p.m. at the LBI Foundation.

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