An artistic and united space for survivors and supports of survivors, Monument Quilt is a national organization that encourages all people to share their stories and words of support through the creation of a quilt square. Through sewing these squares together, Monument Quilt fastens stories and connects voices. In sharing these powerful stories and voices, the organization hosts workshops, assembles installations on college campus, and organizes its largest installation at The National Mall in Washington, D.C. While each installation is unique in its narratives and experiences, they all accentuate an overarching message: “Not Alone.”
Monument Quilt’s unparalleled coupling of art and sexual violence not only allows survivors and supporters of survivors to express their experiences and messages through a unique medium, but it also enables the country to begin to understand and internalize such experiences and messages in new modes. To further explore Monument Quilt’s mission and its relationship to the current political atmosphere, the Politik interviewed one of its volunteers, TG, to learn about her personal experiences working with the organization. TG is one of many Monument Quilt volunteers, and all responses reflect her voice. In these conversations, it is important to understand the significance of each individual voice, while also recognizing that this one voice does not represent an entire organization or movement.
Politik: What does Monument Quilt’s Mission mean to you?
TG: To me, monument Quilt is a safe space for survivors and supporters of survivors where you can go and make a quilt square to share your story and words of support. The organization hosts workshops across the country. This year, its National Mall Installation will be displayed in Washington D.C. from May 31st to June 2nd. While Monument Quilt also hosts installations on college campuses, I think the National Mall is really powerful because it’s bringing the conversation to people who should be caring about it instead of just thinking it’s a college problem.
Politik: What do you think makes Monument Quilt distinct from other organizations that focus on advocacy around sexual assault and violence?
TG: I feel like Monument Quilt is one of the first resources of sexual assault for its kind because I’ve never really seen something dedicated to bringing survivors together like that in a public way that maintains privacy. When individuals make a quilt, it is their choice to incorporate their name into the quilt design or not. After the quilt is made, each artist receives a reference number so that they can find their quilt at the installation. I also believe that Monument Quilt differs from a therapy group or support group, for example, that brings together a few people. Instead, the organization brings people together on a national scale and allows active sharing of our stories despite being societally discouraged from doing so.
Politik: How do you perceive Monument Quilt’s role in the “Me Too” movement?
TG: Both are definitely connected and share the same premise of being aware of the topic. But I think that “Me Too” is weird because it turns people away from taking the movement seriously. It almost makes a joke about it. Even thought people say sexual assault is an issue, it is hard for it to be internalized as a serious topic when so many people are posting about it. I think the social media aspect specifically contributes to this because social media is not as serious of a medium and, therefore, the content does not have as much weight. Also, nothing on social media is permanent, which translates into the problematic notion of people only fleetingly thinking about sexual assault as a widespread problem.
Politik: Teana Burke, the founder of the “Me Too” movement, recently said in an interview that the movement is losing itself by presenting an “archetypical story of abuse…we have to shift the narrative that it’s a gender war, that it’s anti-male, that it’s men against women, that it’s only for a certain person—that it’s for white, cisgender, heterosexual, famous women.” Do you think Monument Quilt can contribute to this narrative shift?
TG: Yes, but I think it’s difficult. As a Monument Quilt intern, I was involved in a project where interns chose an underrepresented group in the conversation about sexual assault and explored this group through making our own quilts. As interns, we focused on Asian American, transgender, and sex worker stories. This is because cis-gendered white women have overtaken the conversation. I don’t think Monument Quilt, or any resource dedicated to sexual assault, would be envisioned to exist in a mostly cis-gendered and white space, but that can happen due to patterns of institutional imbalance that permeate society. For example, access to the quilt could be considered limited just because of the people who hear about it and the college audience it attracts. I think that the narrative shift is crucial yet difficult because it requires a shift in how we talk about sexual assault and who talks about sexual assault. That’s why the beauty of Monument Quilt is its ability to connect stories while also preserving individual voices, each of which represents different cultures, races, sexualities, and experiences.
Politik: Can you expand upon the power of using art – specifically quilts – as Monument Quilt’s medium of choice?
TG: There is an art therapy aspect to it, and there is something about the medium that is really healing. I think it’s because you can make something concrete— a literal quilt square – but you can still preserve the abstract and intricate nature of your real experiences and voice. I think the organization would be very different if they chose to use a different art medium instead of a quilt. The quilt represents bringing different parts of different things together to make something bigger. When we organize the quilts in an installation to spell out, “Not Alone,” the quilt medium allows that message to be true, as no quilt square – and no survivor – is alone.
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