On Friday a Craft Activism day was held as part of the Oxford Brookes Think Human festival. The #JusticeforLB quilt was on display for the first time in 18 months and Janet Read, one of the quilting team of four, was a presenter. Other presenters included Karen Nickell talking about textile art during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and Roxanne Ellis, who founded the Women’s Quilt celebrating the lives of 598 women killed by men between 2009-15.
The event was held at the Avado Gallery in Oxford.
It was blooming moving and powerful listening to Janet tell the story behind the making of the quilt.
Concerns about whether it may turn out to be a #JusticeforLB tea towel if not enough patches were sent. The bundle of patches from the Messy Church group arriving with still wet glue. Letters sent with stories and concerns around whether patches might not be ‘good enough’. The stretching of the patch size template… The small detail that Janet, Margaret Taylor and Janis Firminger had never made a quilt before.
Janet said when they first laid the patches out on the floor, they realised they had been given a gift. And cried.
Janet’s sister Jean Draper, a textile artist, was drafted in to help and the just under 300 patches from people aged 3-80 were transformed into a quilt of beauty, spontaneity and power.
During Janet’s talk I began to think about the in-between bits of the quilt. The individual patches have kind of eclipsed the quilting work. The joining together of different shaped patches into a spectacular whole and the artistic endeavour this involved.
Karen Nickell earlier talked about how invisible much textile art is, stored away in suitcases or attics. Undervalued within the art world (or dismissed as ‘soft furnishings’). The enormity of this quilt, like other objects of protest stitching, was breathtaking. Joanne Begiato rounded the event off reflecting on the ‘time traveller’ dimension of these objects which have a power beyond those who make them.
A Doughty Street gig
A couple of weeks ago I was involved in a Doughty Street evening event about strategic litigation. I didn’t know what this was but Kids for Law have helpfully produced three short films explaining it; using the law as a tool for social justice. I was asked to speak about the legacy of #JusticeforLB.
‘Ooh er’, I thought. ‘Legacy?’
The (attempted non) publication of the Leder review weeks earlier came to mind. How committed journalists worked to make a ‘buried’ report newsworthy. How editors were willing to take a punt on the unseen report. The passion and dedication demonstrated on that dark day.
This is an example of the legacy of the extraordinary efforts of families and allies to make the premature deaths of their daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, aunties, uncles, parents known and cared about. These issues have become more prominent, connections have been made, networks developed and countless people have stepped up to collaborate and be counted.
Another example is the truly wondrous pop up #CaminoLB walks that took place across the UK when we were walking the #JusticeforLB bus to Santiago. I can’t describe how moving it was to facetime brilliantly cheerful groups of people, many of whom had never met before, from the Camino. London, Cheshire, Kent, Devon, Birmingham…
Legacy is an important strand of social action I learned during the evening. Or steps made can wither away. I suppose, like the quilt, it’s now about looking beyond the headline patches. We can’t bottle the magic of #JusticeforLB but we can certainly start to think a bit more about the in-between bits. How it worked and why.