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quilts and human rights


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Photo of Transgressions text panel

Photo of Arpillera textile

Unidentified artist
c. 1980
Fabric, pearl cotton, yarn; machine pieced, machine appliqued, hand embroidered, hand crocheted
18" x 14"
Collection of John Beck and Ann Austin

MSU labor educator and MSU Museum adjunct curator John Beck acquired this work in 1981 or 1982 in Ann Arbor from Madame Letellier (the widow of Orlando Letellier who was assassinated in Washington, D.C. by the Pinochet regime) who was an instructor in the Residential College at the University of Michigan. The textile depicts a strike by the professionals' union (professors, engineers, etc.) A small piece of paper rolled up and inserted in the back of the textile carried text in Spanish that references dismissal of 45 employees.


Photo of Southern Heritage, Southern Shame quilt

Southern Heritage, Southern Shame
Gwendolyn Magee
Jackson, Mississippi
Cotton, several different types of organza, cording; layering, machine applique
22 1/2" x 32 1/2"
Collection of the Michigan State University Museum

"This quilt is my response to the failure of the April 17, 2001 referendum for the State of Mississippi to adopt a flag without the confederate battle emblem. Proponents to retain it stated that it is just a symbol of southern pride and southern heritage. My goal with this piece is to expose exactly that of which they are so proud - a heritage that glorifies slavery; a heritage based on racism and hatred; a heritage that committed atrocities and unspeakable acts of savagery; and a heritage dedicated to oppression by using terroristic tactics to instill fear and impose subservience."

Photo of Xenophobia Memory Cloth

Xenophobia Memory Cloth
Sheila Mabaso
Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Cotton; hand appliqué, hand embroidery, beading
13 ¾” x 16 ¾”
Collection of the Michigan State University Museum, 2010:123.1

Sheila Mabaso is a member of Isiphethu (meaning Fountain in Zulu), a group that began in l999 when women from the communities of Madadeni and Osizweni came together to embroider appliqué images for a Woman’s Day project organized by the Carnegie Art Gallery located in nearby Newcastle, South Africa. This project inspired the women to continue creating and a workshop program was launched in 2000 under the umbrella of the gallery. Women are encouraged to attend mentorship programs where business development and quality control are discussed and they have now exhibited their work nationally and internationally and have won many awards.

Xenophobia is still taking place in some townships. If you are not originally from that place or that country, they treat you like a total stranger and they abuse your right of living freely as a human being. Foreigners are doing all they can to survive, they work for very little money, make handcrafts to sell, and open their small shops. Then the local people get jealous and then they beat them, they steal from their shops and kill them sometimes. That’s really unfair. - Sheila Mabaso

Photo of Peeling back the Layers quilt

Peeling Layers Back to Basics
Meena Schaldenbrand
Plymouth, Michigan
July 2000
Cotton, metallic lace; machine applique
33" x 33"
Collection of the Michigan State University Museum, 2008:158.2

Underneath our many layers of clothing and skin we are the same.
Marvel at our similarities, celebrate our differences.
Have a heart, reach out, and lend a hand...
Make a difference in the short time we have...

This quilt was included in Roots of Racism, a juried international exhibition first organized in 2000 in Memphis, Tennessee. The exhibition began when quilt artist Susan Leslie Lumsden sent a plea over the Internet calling on her fellow quilters to address the global problems of prejudice and hatred. Within hours, hundreds of American quilters had responded and the concept for a group exhibition was subsequently shown at the US Ambassador's
Residence in Islamabad, Pakistan as part of the 2003-2005 Art in Embassies program. The Art in Embassies Program exhibitions play an important role in our nation's public diplomacy. They provide international audiences with a sense of quality, scope, and diversity of American art and culture through the accomplishments of some of our most important citizens, our artists.

Photo of Angry Young Men quilt

Angry Young Men
Marion Coleman
Castro Valley, California
Mixed media; layered collage
49 1/2" x 47"
Collection of the Michigan State University Museum, 2008:157.1

"Angry Young Men is a fiber collage quilt that examines urban violence, the criminal justice system in the United States, and community ambivalence toward the loss of a generation of young African American men. There appears to be a lack of public will to address their basic human right to have an enriched life, health, education and prosperity."

Photo of She Carries Her House quilt

She Carries Her House
Chris Worland
East Lansing, Michigan
Spring 2000
Commercial fabric, cowrie shells, buttons, beads; pieced, appliqued, and photo-transfer technique
20 1/4" x 24"
Collection of the Michigan State University Museum

"In the summer of 1999, I traveled to South Africa. The South Africans I met were very welcoming and friendly. When they began to tell stories of living through apartheid, I was shocked by the level of violence and coercion and dismayed by my ignorance of that horrible period in South Africa's history. This quilt is my response to that trip. The pass book photo is from one I took at the Kwa Muthle Museum in Durban, [a museum devoted to telling the story of living under apartheid]. The turtle was inspired by a woodcut by Carina Minnar. The turtle represents the rights granted in the 13th clause in the South African Bill of Rights. Like the turtle who carries her house with her, South Africans are now free to reside where they please."

Under apartheid, all non-white South Africans were subjected to strict rules of segregation and limits of their rights. All non-whites had to carry a pass book which included their photograph and a statement of whether they were Indian, black, or colored (mixed race). Failure to produce a pass book on demand often led to harassment, torture, and imprisonment. The system of pass laws was finally repealed in South Africa in 1986.

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