The Here Comes the Sun quilt hangs on my studio wall, it’s nearly complete, 3 hems to be stitched, a hanging system to be devised, a bit more stitching, more colour to balance the composition. It’s now time to pause, to reflect on this unique and wonderful project, to thank everyone whose joined in and to share. It takes time for me to write, for ideas to percolate. There has been much learning, some heartache and lots of joy with this project. I’m splitting my reflections into parts, so as not to overwhelm. So here I start at the beginning.
(artist Lois Blackburn)
Bringing of people together through creativity.
Phil and I working as arthur+martha have always aimed to breakdown boundaries through the arts; to bring people together, forge a greater understanding of each other, share experiences. However previous projects have been limited to one sector of society, for example: older people, people living with dementia, people with experience of homelessness, war widows, carers… This project gave us a unique opportunity to bring everyone together, without hierarchies, without labels.
How we worked
We invited people from across the globe to make embroidery and write a short piece of poetic text for a new quilt, Here Comes the Sun. It was open to everyone, wherever people lived, whether they regularly make art, or haven’t picked up needle and thread since school, everyone was welcome.
The project researched and developed new ways of working for artist Lois Blackburn during the Covid 19 pandemic. It built on the learning from recent project War Widows’ Quilt, and current project Necklace of Stars. It looks and prepares for an uncertain future.
Lois’s first goal was to engage a cross section of people in the project, from many parts of the world and many backgrounds, then from this participant group, build a team of volunteers to stitch on behalf of those who were struggling. Lois started by spreading invites to join in the project via social media and the web, and targeting groups that have previously worked with us, such as War Widows.
The interest and take up was fast and enthusiastic. Approximately half way through the project, due to time and financial restrictions, Lois stopped promoting the project to new participants, as she didn’t have the capacity for more contributions to the project.
130 embroidery squares have been created
28 embroidery squares were made by volunteers
18 new volunteers
37 drawings/paintings/designs were made by people with experience of homelessness
11 embroideries where stitched by people with experience of homelessness/or struggling with economic hardship.
Suns, are a symbol of alchemy. It represents life, influence and strength. It symbolizes energy, power, growth, health, passion and the cycle of life in many cultures and religions throughout time. In Egyptian culture, a winged sun disc symbol stood for protection. The Egyptians also worshiped the sun god Ra. In 20th century pop culture, the sun gives superhuman strength to comic book hero Superman. Such strength allows him to protect and rescue people in danger.
Particularly important during the crisis, for many of our participants and audience members, it’s a symbol of joy and hope.
“Beautiful piece of work and I love the connotations of the sun shining again.” Julie New, Personal Recovery Coach
The sun theme of the quilt and poetry is easy for everyone to understand. Yet if can be interpreted in countless different ways. Each of our 130 embroideries are unique.
We offered people the option of embroidering someone’s name on the quilt. This raises questions about remembrance, personal and national, the idea of a Covid time capsual. It also raises questions about how we give support, grief, hope.
Liam is my 15 year old son. I have suffered badly with my mental health over the years and the lockdown has made my condition worse. He is my inspiration to keep battling on everyday. He is in year 11 and is one of the children that will not take exams, I have found that his attitude to this and everything that is thrown at him is exceptional. I am so proud of him.
I haven’t embroidered a single name on it as so many people have done so much over this period. I wanted it to be inclusive of the people who have done simple gestures which have improved my days immeasurably. Such as someone smiling reassuringly from across the road, the post people still working and bringing supplies, my colleagues who have set tasks and set up groups to inspire and entertain whilst we are furloughed. The hospital staff who did my tests despite being in the height of the pandemic.
Deborah Louise Partington
Here Comes the Sun, is part of the project WHISPER TO ME ALONE, and is supported by Arts Council England. Partners include The Booth Centre, Back on Track, Bury Art Museum and Arts and Homelessness International.