The beauty of advocacy quilts reflects brutality against women, children

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This quilt block shows this woman’s reaction to oppression in her country. This quilt block shows this woman’s reaction to oppression in her country. GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP – Quiltmakers the world over will tell you there’s a backstory to every quilt they make. Most times, at least here in America, they are stories about coming of age, friendships, families or romance.

The quilts currently on display at the Noyes Museum on Lily Lake Road tell quite a different story. Seeing their beauty might fool the viewer, but each quilt relays a grim story of oppression against women and children, including child and sex slavery, genital mutilation, rape, violence, war and poverty.

“The stories behind each of these quilts are pretty horrid, but the quilts are beautiful and they draw you in,” Noyes Director of Education Saskia Schmidt said.

The 17 quilts in the exhibition are part of a 30-quilt collection developed by The Advocacy Project, a non-government organization in Washington, D.C. that works with marginalized communities around the world to bring attention to the horrors perpetrated against women and children.

Quiltmaker Merry May of Cape May County chats with Iain Guest about the advocacy quilt made by women who collect garbage in Delhi. Quiltmaker Merry May of Cape May County chats with Iain Guest about the advocacy quilt made by women who collect garbage in Delhi. The exhibition has been on display at the United Nations and viewed by more than 80,000 people in New York City and for several months at Kean University in Union.

 “These groups are all in a depression, whether they are disabled women in Vietnam, widows in Kenya, families of children lost to human sacrifice in Uganda, rescued domestic slaves, or the Delhi children who live in garbage,” the project’s Executive Director Iain Guest said.

As a former journalist for Great Britain’s, The Guardian, Guest covered the war in Bosnia. He started the project after seeing carpets woven by survivors of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia who were trying to account for their lost relatives.

“They fled with just the clothes on their backs, so there are no photographs of their loved ones,” Guest said.

An applique shows women collecting straws they weave into purses. The women waste pickers weaved straws to make the white backing for this quilt. An applique shows women collecting straws they weave into purses. The women waste pickers weaved straws to make the white backing for this quilt. The carpets, which simply included the names of the lost and their family crests, reminiscent of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, were the first blocks to be weaved into one of several Advocacy Project’s quilts.

“The quilt blocks are made by people in struggles of violence, war, poverty, then they are sent to the United States where American quilt makers stitch them into the beautiful quilts they are,” Guest said. “People learn so much when they are making the quilts. The women in quilt guilds in American say they had no idea this stuff is going on around the world.”

It is mostly an all-volunteer effort, he said.

“We are the curators. No one benefits. We pay stipends to volunteers to go to these countries to make the quilts so we can share their message,” he said.

Guest said the organization does not provide financial help to the women and children who are suffering, but funds supporting organizations that work to foster social justice, peace and human rights in foreign lands.

“Our goal is to offer these women a form of self-expression. The real challenge is the issues – end female cutting, no more massacres, no more plastic, free the kids in slavery and get the kids out of the garbage,” Guest said.

The backing of one of the appliqued quilts was made by women and children in Delhi who sift through garbage daily. The women walk the streets collecting drinking straws, which they weave into purses they sell for pennies.

“We asked them to weave the backing for this quilt,” Guest said pointing to the white quilt made of straws and layered with colorful appliques.

A group of students from Education Works in Camden, who were touring the museum Friday, July 11, did not get to see one of the quilts that Schmidt though was too graphic for young eyes. She gently folded it up to reveal only the ivory muslin backing.

Another quilt reflects the feelings of Ugandan mothers mourning their children who were killed through human sacrifice. Murdered by a witch doctor, one child’s body was sold to a builder to be buried in the foundation of the building for good luck.

The largest quilt on display has blocks made by women in Nepal who are suffering from uterine prolapse, a painful condition brought on by early child bearing and hard manual labor. The organization is currently seeking funds to allow 35 of about 600,000 Nepalese women suffering from the condition to have hysterectomies.

This quilt tells the story of women in Nepal who are suffering from uterine prolapse from early child birth and heavy labor. This quilt tells the story of women in Nepal who are suffering from uterine prolapse from early child birth and heavy labor. Next to each of the quilts is a placard with a photograph and profile of each of the women who made a block for the quilt, giving a voice to the voiceless, Guest said.

Although their stories are extremely harsh, they were anxious to have them told, Guest said.

Members of the South Shore Stitchers quilt guild based in the Ocean City area, toured the exhibition along with members of the Women’s Center.

The two groups agreed to collaborate on a quilt to tell stories of oppression from an American perspective.

Guild member Merry May said her group would jump at the opportunity to collaborate with women in foreign countries.

“But sometimes it’s a lot easier to start at home,” she said.

The Advocacy Project: A Voice for the Voiceless quilt exhibition runs until Sept. 7.

For more information, visit www.advocacynet.org and www.noyesmuseum.org.


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