The Hope In a Grief Quilt

A few days ago Rex Hupple wrote about the Chicago Homicide Quilt in the Chico Tribune:

Hanging on a wall in a storefront art gallery in Logan Square is a quilt stitched by hands that have felt the scope of homicide in Chicago, felt it with tired fingers pushing needles through fabric over and over and over again, lovingly spelling out the names of the hundreds killed last year.

The quilt is a map of the city, and most of the oddly shaped neighborhoods hold names — some only a few, some so many that names are sewn atop other names, forcing you to look closely to read one from the other.

And that’s the point, I suppose. To get you to look closely. To get you to see not only the perverse concentration of deaths in the city’s poorer neighborhoods but the sheer volume of loss.

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This morning the following image was posted on Facebook. The image was attributed to http://www.antinwoalliance.com/

Thinking about these two very different approaches to the unthinkable, I found myself mulling over the difference between art and propaganda. For sure, art sometimes becomes propaganda, and propaganda can be art. Yet, I believe there is a difference: at its best art makes suffering personal.

I spend considerable time thinking about the unimaginably immense calamity that was, and is, the genocide against Native people in North America (to say nothing about South America, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and on-and-on). The thoroughness and ingenuity shown by settler governments in carrying out this genocide is breathtaking. The vastness of the enterprise is shocking. I understand why my family turned away from our Native cultures and tried to pass.

The above poster appears to grapple with these things but has many problems. First, we Native people are still here. Second, the genocide against Native people has occurred in (often) slow motion over five hundred years, and is ongoing, abet in new and insidious forms. Third, the poster belittles the ghastliness of the Holocaust and the crushing violence against Europe’s Jews, artists, homosexuals, persons with disabilities, Roma, and others who opposed Fascism. Fourth, it utilizes a stock image of a Plains tribesman, a choice that while paying tribute to my father’s side of our family, plays into racial stereotyping and erases many Native peoples. Fifth, the meme chooses a disputed number and does not acknowledge the complexity of Native cultures and populations.  Sixth, and probably not last, it utilizes the volume of deaths to obscure the heartbreaking reality of the genocide as experienced by real people.

Genocide and other forms of violence change the survivors, creating fear, brutality, and heartbreak that lasts for generations. Maybe we should make an immense quilt, acknowledging the shadow cast by violence, and the ways we wrap ourselves in the memory of what happened and of those we lost. Perhaps there would be healing in creating that quilt, a sharing of grief and hope, loss and continuity. Maybe sharing the work would build and strengthen our communities, and reduce the power and influence of those who would destroy us.

We are wrapped in a blanket of loss, let us grieve together and, in so doing, find hope and unity.

 

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9 thoughts on “The Hope In a Grief Quilt

  1. I would say that these mass killings or any killing occurs out of thinking the victims are less than human……different than our selves…….not good enough. This does include destroying animals and nature. I believe that nothing short of mass awakening will stop wanton destruction. Every bit helps us wake up.

  2. Hi Gretchen, Yes. I also believe we can only commit acts of genocide when we forget the other person is human. I find individual acts of violence more confusing. That said, the shadow cast by murder is multi-generational. I am still attempting to awaken.

  3. At the World War II Museum in Caen I saw a series of letters home from a Nazi soldier who participated in the mass slaughter at Babi Yar. At first, he was reluctant to participate in the murder of children who reminded him of his own kids at home, but it didn’t take long for him to dehumanize his victims; there are even clips of home movies he made of the the murder of naked mothers lined up, hugging their babies and waiting for a bullet to the head. I think you are right–dehumanizing people makes it so easy to commit such atrocities, and that is what the Nazis were so very good at, and what Americans did to both African Americans and Native Americans in order to justify treating them so heinously.

    I love what you say here, Michael. Especially… “Maybe we should make an immense quilt, acknowledging the shadow cast by violence, and the ways we wrap ourselves in the memory of what happened and of those we lost. Perhaps there would be healing in creating that quilt, a sharing of grief and hope, loss and continuity. Maybe sharing the work would build and strengthen our communities, and reduce the power and influence of those who would destroy us.”
    What a different world it would be if we could all move forward in forgiveness and kindness, as well as remorse, acknowledgment of responsibility, and with open hearts.

    • Thank you, Naomi. And thank you for bringing Africa and African Americans into the discussion. The genocide against African peoples remains so easily skipped over, apparently even by me.

  4. Dear Michael: I agree with Gretchen. I believe nothing short of a “mass awakening” needs to happen if our planet is able to survive and move to the next level of “inter-being.” Thanks so much for this lovely post.

  5. A great post and your readers left interesting remarks. I know little about American history, I shamefully admit, though I am aware of the fate of the Indian tribes and still horrified by it. I like your other readers feel a sense of helplessness in wondering how we can help to stop this.

    • Thank you, Maria. The problem of violence and multi-generational trauma is large and global. If we are to change the course of human history we must face this. Otherwise how will we find the courage and unity to address the many threats to our world and ourselves?

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