On Saturday, March 1, one hundred red quilts containing survivors’ stories of rape and abuse were laid out in the lawn of the Capitol Building. This installation—called the Monument Quilt, aims to provide a public healing space for the survivors. The project was organized by FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, an art and feminist activist group based in Baltimore.
The Monument Quilt is not the first quilt used to raise public awareness on an otherwise neglected issue. The AIDS Memorial Quilt was conceived in 1985 by gay rights activist Cleve Jones in response to the AIDS pandemic in the ’80s. The quilt memorialized those who died of the disease. The NAMES Project Foundation—Jones’s group, which organized the implementation of the project—mentions the importance of the medium of quilt-making. Its website states, “The Quilt has redefined the tradition of quilt-making in response to contemporary circumstances. A memorial, a tool for education and a work of art, the Quilt is a unique creation, an uncommon and uplifting response to the tragic loss of human life.” The NAMES Project Foundation’s inaugural display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt on the National Mall on October 11, 1987 was attended by half a million visitors. Since then, the quilt and its popularity have grown exponentially and it continues to be displayed around the country.
Following in the footsteps of the NAMES Project Foundation, FORCE aims to eventually install its own monumental quilt display on the National Mall. During the March 1st event, roughly 300 visitors viewed the quilts, but FORCE hopes to expand its reach. The group believes that the Monument Quilt will be the perfect vehicle for change, stating on its website that “[b]y stitching our stories together, we are creating and demanding public space to heal… We are creating a new culture where survivors are publicly supported, rather than publicly shamed.”
As a final display, after amassing quilt squares from survivors across the country, The Monument Quilt will be displayed over one mile of the National Mall to spell “NOT ALONE.” In the meantime, the website for the Monument Quilt has listed ways for interested participants to volunteer as well as instructions on how to submit a quilt square.
—Kyla Crisostomo is a publications and marketing/communications intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
Many of the quilts on view in “Workt by Hand” memorialize or make statements, like the Monument Quilt—come to NMWA to see them before April 27!