Nous Marchons Ensemble
Long Walk to Freedom
We walk together / Nous marchons ensemble
84cm x 119cm
Imagine packing a single bag, gathering your family together, and closing the door to your home for the last time. You have left your job, your car, your possessions. Everything. And then you start to walk so that you can be somewhere safe. Where? Who knows? But anywhere would be better than here.
I started this quilt back in October 2015; it was my piece for the French biennial exhibition 'Quilt Expo en Beaujolais 2016'. The theme of the challenge was 'La Liberté'. From the moment I read those words I knew immediately what I wanted to create. Several years ago I made a quilt with the same title - albeit in a different language. That quilt is called 'Freedom' and was my way of telling the story of the end of Apartheid when Nelson Mandela made his now famous 'Long Walk to Freedom'. You can see this quilt and read more about it here. It is a quilt that tells the end of a dreadful story, but is a celebration of the triumph against the odds. That made it an emotionally easy quilt to create.
This new interpretation of the same theme, 'La Liberté' comes from a very different point of view and has forced me to consider many things as I made it.
At the time, October 2015, the UK TV news was becoming more and more filled with stories of refugees and the repercussions of the disturbing events which had been unfolding in Syria since April 2011. The problem for Europe was that now these issues were spilling over borders and into 'our' lives. If you remember, daily we saw the very disturbing pictures of tens of thousands of people arriving into Europe by all means possible: by boat, truck, rail and even literally walking across fields. It was such a terrible thing to watch and I could not even begin to imagine what it must be like to have to leave everything you own, everything have worked for, and just walk to who knows where - just to be safe.
A lot of things happened as I made the quilt - some of which made me doubt whether I would, or even should finish it. I wondered if I was trivialising the whole terrible situation with the piece. I felt guilt that I was sat in my comfortable studio whilst someone's dead child was washed up on a beach. I felt angry that in our times ordinary people, just like you and I, are being forced to abandon their everyday lives because of the terrible actions of governments - either appointed by the proletariat or by themselves. It seems that as the human race we are determined to ensure we self destruct.
And then the events of November 13th happened in Paris and I stopped work on it completely.
After several days I looked at the quilt again. I thought long and hard about why I had chosen this subject for this quilt and decided that, despite those terrible events, the lives of the people whose story I was trying to tell had not changed. For so many reasons, those people were still searching for freedom. Their reasons for abandoning all that they had were still the same. They were leaving wherever it was they had come from because they could take no more. Whatever your personal views, and I know this is a very emotive subject, I think nobody can deny that this is a human tragedy of monumental proportion.
After much thought and consideration I decided to continue with the piece. When it was finished I contacted Monique Bonnet, the French organiser and explained my position and my reticence over submitting the piece. I explained that I did not wish to make the events in Paris seem any less important than the story of those the quilt portrays. Monique was very understanding and told me to submit it. And I am glad I did.
The quilt was subsequently juried in to the 'Threads of Resistance' exhibition - which toured the USA in 2017 and 2018. 'Threads of Resistance' was organised by the Artists Aliance in protest of the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA.
An online record of the full exhibiton, with images and imformation on all quilts submitted, can be found at the following web page:
Long Walk to Freedom
This quilt celebrates the important part that Nelson Mandela played in the path to freedom that was trodden by so many all over the world.
To make the background I painted white cotton fabric with yellow fabric paints and then stencilled it with the silhouettes of Madiba walking into the distance. The dense free motion quilting records some of the names of the more well know people who played their part in the struggle against Apartheid. At the base I have quilted the opening lines of the Freedom Charter...
"We, the People of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know:
that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people;
that our people have been robbed of their birthright to land, liberty and peace by a form of government founded on injustice and inequality;
that our country will never be prosperous or free until all our people live in brotherhood, enjoying equal rights and opportunities;
that only a democratic state, based on the will of all the people, can secure to all their birthright without distinction of colour, race, sex or belief;
and therefore, we, the people of South Africa, black and white together equals, countrymen and brothers adopt this Freedom Charter......."