Imagining a World Without Violence
Imagine the future. Imagine a world without violence.
Now, imagine not being able to read those words. Imagine being an adult, seeing the letters printed out in a specific pattern that creates a word or a sentence, and not knowing what it says. This is the reality for the women in the camps surrounding San Miguel de Allende, a picturesque historic town in Guanajuato, Mexico.
My project began with hiring a seamstress, Angeles Agreda Peinado, to organize women from different ranchitos, or ranches, in the area. Under her supervision, they embroidered messages of hope. Their instructions: create a quilt made of four squares, three with a butterfly in each, and one with the words "Imagina un Mundo Sin Violencia."
The butterflies are a symbol for the Mirabal Sisters, whose murder in 1960 led to the movement we observe today as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Working in the resistance movement against the Dominican Republic's dictator Rafael Trujillo, Minerva, Patria and Maria-Teresa Minerva used the code name "Las Mariposas" (the Butterflies), an appropriate metaphor for transformation and change.
This part was easily understood by the women-becoming-artisans, but as it turns out, none of them understood the words. They had never learned to read or write, even when offered free government-sponsored literacy programs. When Angeles proposed this sewing project to them, she wrote out the words on that fourth panel, so that they could stitch our slogan. Thus began their adventure in writing. Today as I think about the things we take for granted, I am grateful to be a small part of this circle of women, who one day, just might take a pen in hand and write their own slogans, their own stories. Or perhaps, decide to take time away from their families and household duties to learn to read, to understand that "leer es poder" (reading is power).
When Angeles collects the squares each month, she returns to her studio to sew them together for pillows and assorted sizes of bags, which we both assemble in a reverie of fun and comeraderie. Even though each is roughly the same size, no two are ever identical, due to the nature of the stitching. Sometime we shop for fabrics together, sometimes Angeles goes along, finding great bargains on manta (a local type of raw cotton), and spends the day dying and tie-dying it to create her unique colors.
My goal now is to find outlets for these products, and to put more women to work making them. They made their debut during "Imagina 2009," a program of arts awareness in observance of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, Nov. 25 - Dec. 10., which will include art exhibitions, film series, panel discussions, poetry readings and celebrations, we are standing in solidarity with this global movement, as we imagine a world without violence.