Thursday, August 25, 2016

Jurors' comments

The quilt that I had sent to Festival of Quilts this year is the quilt on migration which I made late last year. It did not get accepted intoSAQA’s “Stories of Migration” show, it did not fit the size restrictions for SAQA Europe/Middle East exhibition “Wide Horizons V”, I once again missed the entry deadline for European Art Quilts that I wanted to have it entered into – and it did not get accepted for the Fine Art Masters at Festival of Quilts. By then I was thinking that probably this wasn’t a good quilt after all, despite (or perhaps because of?) the strong emotional attachment that I felt towards this quilt.

I had written up a bit about how it came to be for the QGBI Contemporary Group newsletter in the spring. Because of the limitation of pages in the publication, the original text was edited and several sections had to be cut out. This is the entire text how I had first sent it in:

The refugee crisis and my art

For years it has been on my mind that many people live in war-like conditions, face famine or drought, and finally decide to pack up and go. They leave their home and familiar environment behind and embark on a risky journey in search of better living conditions in one of the richer countries. In my own life experience, going abroad has always been an exciting time. I’ve been privileged in that I met wonderful people from other countries - some of my best friends live in far away places - and it is always a wonderful opportunity to have a bit of an adventure to go and see them. I have left home behind on an exchange trip or for travels, which means I always knew when I would be returning, and I never had to worry about relatives and friends whom I left behind because they were living in safe conditions.
The more it has been worrying me that millions of other people do not have the opportunity to live their lives in as easy and comfortable a situation as I can. That’s how it started that the refugee crisis demanded it appear in my art.
When the European Patchwork Meetings (now renamed as Carrefour Patchwork Européenne) announced the theme of “Imagine” for their challenge a couple of years ago, I juxtaposed the popular song lyrics by John Lennon with a poem by German poet Bertold Brecht, which also starts with a line that is a call to imagine some situation.
A year later, a first group of refugees from various countries, came to our city. They were mostly from Syria, some from Afghanistan and a few West African countries, and I was excited because I thought they introduced a bit of international flair to our rather remote and rural town. In the end of January 2015 I started working with a volunteer network, helping the refugees with applications, doctor appointments, or when they had to go to their interviews in the process of asking for political asylum. I learned very quickly that their international experience differed strongly from any international experience I had had. They were not here on an exchange programme, they were not excited about meeting people from other countries, nor were they curious for new experiences. Many of them just wanted to be left in peace, very few of them had any realistic idea about the kind of country they had come to, and especially the Syrians basically wanted to continue living the way they had been living at home. Men don’t take well to having to deal with women in situations of authority, or they are suspicious about buying meat from a German butcher because it could have been cut with a knife that had also touched pork at an earlier stage.
I taught German to some of them, but many had never had to learn a foreign language before, perhaps had not even been to school for more than a couple of years. The Syrians do not like the Africans, and often they are distrustful of one another, not knowing on which side of the war the others had been involved in back home.
By the time of my increasing involvement many people had drowned in terrible boat calamities in the Mediterranean, and news of hundreds of victims through capsizing boats began to haunt me. When SAQA announced a call for entry for an exhibition “Stories of Migration” I wanted to enter a piece on that topic.
At first I thought I would use some details of the flight of one of the Syrians whom I had got to be friends with. The amount of dollars spent on paying for the refugee smugglers could have been part of the story, the number of attempts needed to cross from Turkey to a Greek island, the duration of the trip in a small and unsafe boat. But I hesitated, as I did not want to draw on an individual’s personal story, using it for my work. Eventually I decided on an abstracted photograph of one boat in the Mediterranean, taken at the moment when helpers were approaching in the dark, and the boat was about to capsize.

The original photo from the internet - 

and what a bit of photoshopping did to it.

I overlaid this abstracted background with a dictionary definition of terms regarding ‘migration’ from my monolingual English dictionary.

The quilt, obviously, is not a happy quilt, and it was not chosen as part of the exhibition. But it drew quite a bit of attention in a small exhibition of my work here in my home town.
Working with the refugees has been one of the most intense and challenging years of my life, and it has definitely affected my art, as two other quilts on that topic of migration in/to Europe followed after this one. Meeting these people has made me a much more politically aware and active person than I had ever been before, although I had never considered myself apolitical. But it has also gone beyond my strength, and recently I had to reduce my involvement because I was bordering on the brink of burn out. I still strongly believe in the necessity to maintain a civil right for political asylum. But as Germany is struggling with the influx of more and more refugees, political extremism is rising and the European Union seems to be on the brink of breaking apart at the moment, I am consciously not planning on making more quilts related to that topic. For a while at least.

By the time the quilt had benn rejected from the Fine Art Masters I was getting to be pretty convinced that this was not a good quilt. Yet I wanted to give it another chance and sent it to the open categories, as a “Contemporary”, and this is how it had been hung.

I was also brave enough to ask for judge’s comments to be sent back with the quilt.
When it came back a few days after the show closed, I then was even braver enough to open the envelope and read what they had written. (I’ve had an earlier experience when judge’s comments seemed so belittling and devaluating that I had actually thought I would never again ask for judge’s comments from FoQ.)
Two were very positive. One read: “Inspiring design, solours of quilting threads go very well with the fabrics,”, and the other said “A strong piece. I like that I can read the writing easily. I also like to see social comment.”
And the ‘grades’ weren’t bad, either. Mostly ‘excellent’ and ‘good’.

Except for the two “Satisfactory” from the third judge for “quilting: design & execution” and “edges: suitable finish, hangs well.” This person also wanted it to be more quilted: “Topical, thoughtful and sensitive quilt. May benefit from more quilting. Well done!”
This is a backside view of the quilt.

Capsized (text messages 8)

Where would more quilting fit in, and how would the quilt benefit from that, I just wonder? But it came back safe and sound, and although it did not win a prize or get a recommendation, I now think that it’s not only my personal involvement with the whole issue – it’s not a bad quilt at all.


  1. I didn't have the chance to say to you that I was so glad I got to see this in person. The words really helped to say something that connected with anyone who saw or was moved by seeing the situation of the migrants/asylum seekers. I think even if the words were in another language, having them there really told the story more vividly. I think it is a brilliant quilt. Perhaps you should enter Layered Voices. Since the other venue was looking for large work and installations, it could very well be that this is the place for the quilt to be seen.
    And no, it is Not a bad quilt at all!

  2. Will you post the front view big enough so we can see it? I would love to know more about this quilt. Glad you stuck with it and got it hung in public after so many missed opportunities.