Hear My Voice - Stitching and Protest
The paths we find ourselves on are often not of our own making, certainly this path is not one I would wish anyone to walk along, but I do so, not through courage but because I have no other option. It's strange, you begin it with an army of loyal comrades but they soon grow weary, so you go it broken and alone and then if you are lucky you will find others who have been thrown on this journey too and together you find strength through walking together. That is how you deal with bereavement by suicide, you find your fellow travelers and you hold each other up because suicide is something as a society we like to sweep under the carpet.
When I was commissioned to produce the Speak Their Name Greater Manchester Suicide Memorial Quilt Project in February this year, my thoughts were for a beautiful quilt to tell the individual stories of those we have lost to suicide, to show the outside world that these are not numbers, these are human lives and real people left behind. This would be a piece of art, a legacy. It would be made by people bereaved by suicide and the act of making would join together people walking such a horrendous path and hopefully give those individuals strength and hope.
But the quilt project goes beyond that. It sits alongside a tradition of political stitching that goes back to medieval times if not longer, it is about protest and a call for change. My personal hope is that through the project policy makers and people in communities will see the quilt and have a stronger understanding of what it is like to experience loss to suicide, the impact, the ripple effect, the devastation and the true reflection of the numbers of people who are left without support after such a catastrophic loss. I wanted
this to be a crucible for change, where I had previously failed to get politicians to listen to the need to support those of us left behind, the quilt would be our shared voice and have impact. I guess this was political.
This is not new, as with all cunning plans someone has done it before you. In our case William the Conqueror got in first. In those days works of art were commissioned by a patron who would have complete control. Following the Norman Conquest William's right to the throne was a bit tricky, he needed to ensure everyone was singing from the same hymn sheet and as few people could read a large tapestry promoting his version of events was commissioned. It was political, it was to prevent further unrest and establish him as the the true ruler, to underline his authority and his power. The Bayeux Tapestry was meant to be portable, they had no TV or radio, this could be carried throughout the kingdom to take the message to the people. In a similar fashion our quilt is intended to be taken to each borough in Greater Manchester and used by each Local Authority to create awareness around suicide prevention. Although now people can read the statistics , ironically we are going back to pictures to make our message more powerful.
Through history we have been using embroidery and stitching to get across powerful messages. The Trade Unions began to produce embroidered banners to show the strength of their members . The suffragette movement reclaimed this as their own. Mary Lowndes, a suffragette who had trained at the Slade School of Art, became the main influencer for their media campaign if you like. She used the women's creative skills to create posters, placards and beautifully embroidered banners. From this came the colours closely associated with the movement: purple and gold for ambition, red for courage and green for hope. As a young person growing up in the 70's and 80's I can clearly recall the banners at the time of the Miner's Strike. I remember watching the women camped around Greenham Common with their banners painted and stitched with peace symbols. Stitching and protest have long gone hand in hand, we are doing nothing new but we are following in the solid footsteps of those who came before.
Stitching is quiet, it is contemplative and it is time consuming. It gives us pause to think and collect our thoughts, some time away from a hamster wheel of anxiety. But through simple pictures we can make powerful statements and those statements can have the power to change mindsets. The embroidered map of Manchester gives you the statistics. My daughter may have been a statistic as far as local authorities go when they are collecting data. we might be figures and numbers for research papers but to me my daughter was a 16 year old geeky teenager who wore stripey tights and battered Doc Marten boots with yellow laces. No one fills those boots , I carry her in my heart and through the quilt I will be her voice for change.