Women’s quilts convey messages of love, warmth, autonomy — and subversion | Opinion

·3 min read

Before the Women’s Movement’s start in the mid-19th century, demanding the right to vote and the right to their own voices, the ideal woman was characterized as submissive, relegated to a social cage that the patriarchy carefully constructed for her.

One area that the same patriarchy let slip through their claws was women’s use of textiles to speak for themselves. It is interesting that the realm of the home and hearth have long been assigned to the woman as a means to keep her inside and away from the active world of the man. But over the centuries, women have become successful in acquiring knowledge, sharing information — and calling the patriarchy a failure through subversive stitches.

Silvana Soriano’s quilt, “Meu Corpo, Meu Territorio”
Silvana Soriano’s quilt, “Meu Corpo, Meu Territorio”

These stitches go far back through time, through tapestry, embroidery and quilting. Although all are items that adorn the home, they also serve a practical purpose of warmth. I would argue, too, that they documented truths to which the patriarchy turned a blind eye in its steadfast moral pollution of equality, not just between the sexes, but also between those of diverse races, classes and creeds. In Miami, textile objects recently have become the focus of an annual exhibition through which I have gathered feminine voices, exploring their reactions to society, creating a particularly flavored discourse that weaves realities, wishes and dreams. Sadly, the exhibits also document the failures in which we all share culpability across borders, nationalities, races and experiences.

Beginning in 2019, with eight international female textile artists, we explored pop culture and our obsession with celebrities, the passage of time, loss of identity, urban life, and dictatorships’ destruction of the individual. The year 2020 saw the birth of Fiber Arts Miami Association (FAMA), founded by Aurora Molina, Evelyn Politzer and Alina Rodriguez Rojo. It cemented the bonds between myself, my gallery and fiber arts through our exhibition of “40 Women Pulling on the Threads of Social Discourse.”

The exhibition commemorated the centennial of women’s right to vote in the United States. Each artist made a flag either honoring known suffragists or those who, because of their race, were left invisible. In so doing, the artists crossed borders and knocked down barriers, much like the original suffragists. What was clear from this exhibition was that the veil many of us have put in place to shield ourselves from the reality we fight against is still present; people still suffer, and the patriarchy is still driving this machine in the wrong direction.

In 2021, many are suffering from having to stay distant because of COVID-19, missing the moments of togetherness that we took for granted just a year and a half ago. I, too, craved togetherness and wanted to wrap myself in the warmth of friends and family and developed the idea of making one large quilt consisting of the individual voices of what I thought would be — like last year — 40 women.

Instead, it became a symphony of more than 60 voices — mostly feminine — all sharing what was on their minds. Some continued conversations from last year, some brought forth our “new normal,” some made portraits of who they are or want to be and some drew out how broken we all are. In all, there are 99 stories running concurrently.

Most apparent is the power of the voices in this — dare I say? — housewife medium. It has always amazed me that this medium of fabric, seemingly limited by the social expectation of what women do, has always been a language used not only to “dress’” us and our homes, but to thwart the arrogance of the patriarchy. Men have always felt that if you write the history, you control it — or can filter it to show only the “magnificence” of domination and destruction.

But what the patriarchy fails to recognize is that women, even if they are on the sidelines, are witnessing, and their view is now approaching the brink of a new normal where the only answer can be “F---k the rules!”

Melanie Prapopoulos is founder and art director of The Contemporary Art Modern Project Gallery, 791 NE 125th St. North Miami. The quilt exhibit “64 Women Pulling at the Threads of Social Discourse” can be viewed through Nov. 13.

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