I started this quilt back in October 2015, and it is my piece for the French biennial exhibition 'Quilt Expo en Beaujolais 2016'. The theme of the challenge was 'La Liberté'. From the moment I read those words I knew immediately what I wanted to create. Several years ago I made a quilt with the same title - albeit in a different language. That quilt is called 'Freedom' and was my way of telling the story of the end of Apartheid when Nelson Mandela made his now famous 'Long Walk to Freedom'. It is a quilt that tells the end of a dreadful story, but is a celebration of the triumph against the odds. That made it an emotionally easy quilt to create.
This new interpretation of the same theme, 'La Liberté' comes from a very different point of view and has forced me to consider many things as I made it.
At the time, October 2015, the UK TV news was becoming more and more filled with stories of refugees and the repercussions of the disturbing events which had been unfolding in Syria since April 2011. The problem for Europe was that now these issues were spilling over borders and into 'our' lives. If you remember, daily we saw the very disturbing pictures of tens of thousands of people arriving into Europe by all means possible: by boat, truck, rail and even literally walking across fields. It was such a terrible thing to watch and I could not even begin to imagine what it must be like to have to leave everything you own, everything have worked for, and just walk to who knows where - just to be safe.
A lot of things happened as I made the quilt - some of which made me doubt whether I would, or even should finish it. I wondered if I was trivialising the whole terrible situation with the piece. I felt guilt that I was sat in my comfortable studio whilst someone's dead child was washed up on a beach. I felt angry that in our times ordinary people, just like you and I, are being forced to abandon their everyday lives because of the terrible actions of governments - either appointed by the proletariat or by themselves. It seems that as the human race we are determined to ensure we self destruct.
And then the events in Paris happened and I stopped work on it completely.
After several days I looked at the quilt again. I thought long and hard about why I had chosen this subject for this quilt and decided that, despite those terrible events, the lives of the people whose story I was trying to tell had not changed. For so many reasons, those people were still searching for freedom. Their reasons for abandoning all that they had were still the same. They were leaving wherever it was they had come from because they could take no more. Whatever your personal views, and I know this is a very emotive subject, I think nobody can deny that this is a human tragedy of monumental proportion.
After much thought and consideration I decided to continue with the piece. When it was finished I contacted Monique Bonnet, the French organiser and explained my position and my reticence over submitting the piece. I explained that I did not wish to make the events in Paris seem any less important than the story of those the quilt portrays. Monique was very understanding and told me to submit it.
Much has happened in this story since then. Very little of it good.
One of the things that this quilt forced me to consider is why I make the work I do and how other people react to it. I have made several quilts now that have been very well received, but each is about something seriously negative. I do not consider myself a negative or depressive person (quite the contrary) - but you might think so from the quilts I am currently creating. I have come to discover that currently I make my best work about things that upset me personally. I wonder if that is healthy? I have decided it is. Probably like most people, I detest injustice and suffering, and I feel pretty powerless to do much about it. We see much on the TV news, although there is a lot of bias in what we get shown. Photographers capture hundreds of images which 'tell a thousand words'. Journalists write daily, and in literature authors write books. In all these media there is time for the authors to develop the narrative. The story they are telling can unravel slowly and challenge the reader to contemplate different issues. As a quilt artist, with a single still image, the story has to be told in one shot. That is my challenge. By making work about those things which concern me gives me the opportunity to vent my distress. I try not to add my personal views to the work , (I do not believe in imposing my beliefs on others) but rather I try to portray things the way they are, confronting the silence and allowing others to reflect on the piece. My aim is for the piece to give rise to discussion and debate. When things are not openly debated and discussed it allows those things to carry on, usually for the worse. There is a famous quote, which it turns out is very difficult to attribute (see here) which sums up this whole problem.
"For evil men to accomplish their purpose it is only necessary that good men should do nothing."
It has taken me a long time to figure out my position - maybe I am a bit slow on the uptake.
I would like to express my thanks go to Margaret and John Pratt for sending my the good news that my quilt won a ribbon, and to Uta Lenk for sending my the photograph of the quilt hanging in the gallery. It was a lovely surprise.
Thanks for reading.