'You and me together': Yumi Olgeta craftivism workshop
‘Yumi Olgeta: Crafting a more inclusive democracy' was a craftivism workshop held at MoAD on Saturday, 17 August 2019. Emelda Davis and Aunty Lydia George spoke with textile artist Helen Fraser about Australia's history of ‘blackbirding’ as participants took part in a making experience using ‘chain stitch’, a technique symbolically connected to the slave trade.
We spoke with Helen Fraser about the origins of the Yumi Olgeta event and the relationship between craftivism and democracy.
Craftivism has confirmed my belief that democracy needs to be worked on, actively engaged with and attended to in order for it to be upheld. It is not a given.
In my mind, it is a responsibility for all citizens to participate. Craftivism offers an accessible avenue for anyone who wants to make a difference, build stronger relationships and communities, and get involved. Small actions via craft give us a personal voice on social and political issues meaning we aren’t relying solely on government to change our society. We can all contribute.
'Yumi Olgeta' means ‘you and me, together’ in the language used by the Australian South Sea Islanders during the blackbirding period of 1843 to 1908. This name was selected as it captures what this event is all about: working together in a way that performs and embodies an inclusive democracy.
My interest in this specific project was developed two years ago when I was lucky enough to see a call out to artists to join an international embroidery project on Instagram. This evolved into the United Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) Quilt project, currently on display at the Museum of Australian Democracy.
At the time I was fascinated with the colour Indigo which features in a lot of my artwork and had been researching the connection between Indigo cloth and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. So naturally I selected Article 4: Ban on Slavery from the 30 articles we could embroider from the UDHR Document written in 1948 after WW2 as a way for the world to avoid further human rights violations. When I did a computer search about Australian Slavery I was shocked to discover the history of Blackbirding. I had heard the derogatory term ‘kanaka’ while growing up in Central Victoria but had no knowledge of this tragic history. I felt ashamed and dismayed that as an educated, middle-aged professional woman I didn’t know about this history. ‘Why didn’t I learn this in school?’, I asked myself. I decided to teach myself and share my learnings on social media. Others became interested too and started to learn with me.
I chose to focus on blackbirding in this project due to the emotional impact to reading about this history and after listening to several interviews by (Waskam) Emelda Davis. But I didn’t feel satisfied just learning from history books. I longed for real conversation. I wanted to listen and learn in a deeper, more personal way. Emelda said “When you are next in Sydney, look me up” so I booked a flight to Sydney that day! I will always be pleased I did this as it has led to many moments of understanding and connection that have enriched my life.
When I first reached out to President of Australian South Sea Islander Association, Emelda Davis about this project, she was instantly inclusive and generous in helping me listen and learn. At Saturday’s hands-on workshop, I will be teaching the group how to do chain stitch embroidery, chosen specifically for its symbolic connection to the Australian slave trade.
My aim is for workshop participants to leave with the skills and confidence to start working on their own craftivism pieces and our planned upcoming craftivism projects. While quietly stitching, participants can listen to a meaningful conversation between myself, Emelda Davis and Aunty Lydia George, both descendants of the Australian blackbirding trade.
Our aim is to provide a safe space for conversation, reflection, truth-telling, celebration and connection to take place. ‘Yumi Olgeta’ is now a way of living for me and I am so excited about what is to come.
Yumi Olgeta embroidery pattern download
Yumi Olgeta workshop participants took part in a making experience using 'chain stitch' on a specially designed embroidery pattern acknowledging the 25th annniversary of national recognition of Australian South Sea Islanders.