Craftivism, quilts and human rights: Celebrating 70 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
This address was originally delivered at an event held at MoAD to mark United Nations Day on 24 October 2018. Tal Fitzpatrick is a co-founder of the #UDHRquilt Project, a global craftivism project exploring the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This never-before-seen work is now on display in The #UDHRquilt Project: Craftivism, quilts and human rights, an immersive exhibition experience.
I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land upon which the #UDHRquilt Project exhibition is being held, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, and by paying my respect to their elders: past, present and emerging.
Throughout human history, civilizations have come and gone; yet whenever one civilization was in collapse there was always another, in a different part of the world, that was only just beginning to blossom. Today however, the human experiment has come to a point where we are one global civilization. The existential threat that comes with this reality is the question of what happens if this global civilisation falls?
On a planet that has never been so crowded, whether our demise comes as a result of war that escalates into a nuclear holocaust, or more simply because we fail to take decisive action to stop the climate from changing so much that this planet becomes uninhabitable to us, the outcome for humanity is sure to be devastating.
Which begs the question – what holds our global civilisation together?
One part of the answer to this question is a shared commitment to the aspirational ideals outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) – freedom, equality and dignity for all.
My name is Tal Fitzpatrick and I am one of 131 artists who took part in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Quilt Project – which marks the 70th anniversary of the creation of the UDHR by transforming this unique and aspirational document into a textile artwork.
To be more precise, the #UDHRquilt Project is a collaborative craftivism project which began back in March 2017 when Stephanie Dunlap, a young artist from Phoenix Arizona, contacted me via Instagram. Stephanie’s idea was to use embroidery as a way to celebrate the UDHR and bring attention to what it represents andthe ways it is being violated.
My contribution to the project was to suggest that we could invite other embroidery artists to help us realise the mammoth task of embroidering all 30 articles of the declaration. As well as to offer my quilting skills so we could turn these embroideries into quilted hangings.
Amazingly, within three days of posting a call for artists via our Instagram accounts we had more than 120 artists sign up, meaning we could make not just one, but four UDHR quilts.
The artists involved in this project volunteered their time and skill because they, like so many citizens around the globe, are devastated by instances where human rights are being violated by powerful individuals, institutions and corporations as well as by the very governments who signed up and pledged to uphold these values.
The artists range in age from 17 to 62 years old. Some of them are skilled professionals, some are hobbyists and some took up embroidery for the first time in order to be a part of this project. They live in 21 different countries and represent 45 different cultures and nationalities, including descendants of the first nations peoples of New Zealand, Canada, the USA and Brazil. They are diverse too in their race, gender identification and sexual orientation, as well as in their religious and political beliefs. Ninety-nine per cent of them are women.
As the UN annual report shows, 2017 saw an unprecedented upsurge of movements for women’s rights, equality, safety and justice. A trend that continues to grow as women and those people who truly believe in equality and freedom for all, band together to challenge practices and structures of power that normalise and perpetuate inequality, poverty, violence, and discrimination. Practices that threaten to tear the fabric of our global civilisation.
Craftivism is one expression of the recent resurgence in feminist action and activism. Simply put, craftivism incorporates the materials, techniques and traditions of craft with the strategies of activism and active citizenship. In recent years, thanks to social media and new technologies, craftivism has become a powerful force for positive social and political change.
Betsy Greer, who coined the term ‘craftivism’, explains that craftivism’s efficacy is derived, in part, from the fact that the creation of things by hand leads to a better understanding of democracy because it reminds us that we have power. Power not only to physically reshape the world around us, but to spark curiosity, engage in complex conversation and create meaningful connections with one another.
For human civilisation to go on thriving, we must find generous ways hold each other accountable and ensure the values that bind our civilisation together – the values outlined in the UDHR – continue to have pertinence and credibility.
And it is here where art has an important role to play.
In a very practical way, creative projects such as the #UDHRquilt Project demonstrate how art can be deployed to encourage people to proactively and critically engage with the fact that our own emancipation is caught up in the emancipation of all others. And conversely, as American feminist, civil rights activist and writer Audre Lorde highlighted in her 1981 address to the National Women’s Studies Association conference, that none of us are free as long as one other person remains chained. Therefore, to defend the rights of others and hold accountable those who violate the UDHR, is not only to defend our own rights but perhaps even to fortify the fabric of civilisation itself.
In closing, I would like to thank Stephanie Dunlap for choosing to reach out to me with her timely and moving idea and to congratulate the all the artists involved in this project – I am so proud of the global community we have built and the potential this project has, to open up spaces for reflection and action.
Finally, I would like to wholeheartedly thank the Museum of Australian Democracy for hosting this remarkable exhibition and providing a national platform for the voices of the #UDHRquilt Project artists to be heard.