Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Why I protest

“When the artist is alive in any person, whatever his kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressive creature. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and opens ways for better understanding. Where those who are not artists are trying to close the book, he opens it and shows there are still more pages possible.” – Robert Henri

Most of my art is “pretty.” I like showing people the miracles I see in the natural world. I think that is because at heart, I am an optimist. I choose to turn my face to the light. Even in troubling times, I try very hard to keep my chin up. 

It’s been hard lately. I look at my country, which I love so much, and I see so much discord and hate and fear. So much failure to communicate. I believe that if we do not figure out how to start listening and talking to each other, our country is doomed. And I believe that art is an essential part of communication.

I am a complex person, and there is more to me than my beautiful fiber art and photographs. I know who I am. I have strong emotions and strong opinions. And I am not afraid to speak them. This, apparently, makes some people angry. Very, very angry.

When I posted the Call for Entries for “Threads of Resistance” on social media, and each time I posted updates, I got nasty comments. Some contained offensive names for our former president, mocked Hillary Clinton, and dripped with vitriol, with tones by turn scornful, angry and jeering. Sadly, the long presidential campaign season has hardened me to this kind of language. It is the language of Donald J. Trump, now made acceptable, and echoed by millions of Americans. I expected it. Im used to it by now. 

What did baffle me were the comments that basically told me that my role was to provide eye candy and keep my mouth shut. That I was using my “platform” to undermine the government,” that quilting and politics should never mix, that I was making people sad or disturbing the sanctity of the peaceful quilting community. Or that I was being unpatriotic by not completely supporting the president or “giving him a chance.”

Ummmmm.... what? Here are my thoughts on those points:

1. It is not my job – or the job of any artist – to make pretty pictures that make people happy. Sure, I do that most of the time. But I also don’t put my head in the sand and ignore what is happening around me. I make art about what moves me emotionally, what I am passionate about. Yes, I keep my face to the light. But I will not ignore the creeping shadows.

2. Quilts can be art. Throughout history, artists have used their work to protest. For a quick look at some protest art, try googling "protest art" images. Women, who have throughout history had fewer options available to them, have long protested in their needlework – embroidery and quilts. One could argue that Betsy Rossfirst American flag was protest art. Women have made quilts in the cause of many protests: temperance, women's suffrage, reproductive rights, anti-war, and civil rights.  
 3. Telling me to keep my mouth shut and my opinions to myself is flat-out intimidation, and it is wrong. It is especially wrong if it is said in a rude or threatening way. It would be very easy for me to keep my mouth shut right now. I am taking a risk, and I know it. I am willing to do it because I think the risks – to me, to my children, to Americans, and to democracy itself – of not speaking out are greater. If I dont speak out, I am complicit.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
– Martin Niemoller (1892-1984), pastor and outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler

4. Protest is patriotic. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official.If Americans had not chosen to protest, we would still be a colony of England. We would still have slavery. People of color and women would not have the right to vote. “Coloredswould still be using separate drinking fountains and bathrooms and going to separate schools. People would not have the right to marry the people they love, regardless of gender. The list goes on and on...

I am not advocating a violent overturn of the government. (One of the commenters suggested that I sided with Madonna, who said that she thought about blowing up the White House. I do not; I think her remark was wrong.) I am merely exercising my right to speak freely through art – a right given to me as an American under the First Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

When things that are important to me come under fire – truth, a free press, religious freedom and separation of church and state, the influence of hate groups in government, to name a few – I will always speak up. 

• • • • • 

At its core, art is communication. It is an artist’s way of saying, “Look at this! Please… see what I see!” Sometimes that is beauty. Sometimes it is pain. Sometimes it is a viewpoint. It is my hope that the fiber art in the “Threads of Resistance” exhibition will make people think, make people feel, make people consider another perspective. 

For more information on “Threads of Resistance,” please go to the Threads of Resistance website


  1. Dear Susan, I quoted Mr Niemoller to my bee recently also and they all looked at me like I was totally out of my mind. Well in France, my family lived under Hitler and they saw that IT DID happen. One after the others, they were gone and many were not seen again. My little village didn't really recover for a VERY long time. Some families to this day are still not trusted as they brought so much pain to others. Lucky the Americans came to stop it all in time, though! And even though life was so hard in the after-war years, I was able to grow up free.
    And by the way, quilters have always taken causes: Voting rights, anti-slavery, various presidential campaigns, various cancers, HIV (I still remember the quilts on the grass on the Mall in DC-this was so powerful!) 9-11, and probably many others. I would send those "so-called" quilters to their quilt history books and learn how quilters in the past and now are taking up important causes. Nothing new there. Thank you Susan for speaking up. We need many more people like you especially where it would count the most: Congress!. Annick H.

  2. Oh. My. Gosh. Susan! So very well said! Thank you, thank you! Especially "If I don't speak out, I am complicit".


  3. You have expressed yourself very well. I stand with you and the other brave artists who feel compelled to take a stand. Now more than ever.

  4. Well said. Art is a means of communication whether it be sad, happy, fearful, resentful or as a means of solitary. Continue to do what you do so well but through your photography, quilting or writing. Your message is not only important, it is vital. ( just our of curiosity, how many of those mean-spirited remarks are made by men? I have had quite a few directed toward me and they have all come from men.)

  5. Dear Susan, I have learned your language, but it is not perfect, so I only want to say: What you do, is so important! Elisabeth

  6. I am so grateful you are speaking out. We have all been under attack when in our hearts we know each of us is following our soul's guidance in ways that they cannot understand. I cry for those who remain in denial practicing deflection and continual distraction. Many of us fought back the darkness we felt coming long before the election with a dreaded knowing and now each of us in her own way is bringing in the light through any crack we can find,chisel,or create. Keep listening to your heart and feel the angels surrounding you with guidance and protection from the shadows, slings and arrows.

  7. Thank you so much! I was so inspired by your posts, personally, affirmed and encouraged. If art does not stir us why are we doing it? Thank you, thank you. I have long admired your art and your generosity with your art, and now I admire your honesty and courage.

  8. Thank you for a great blog post. I made a quilt to carry at the women's march and I had many people telling me that quilts and politics shouldn't mix. I especially love how you phrased points 1 and 3. The kind of intimidation and threats I have seen in regards to artists recently speaking out is just unjustifiable to me. Anyway, I applaud you! Also, have you seen Lisa Congdon's post?

  9. Day by day it becomes more surreal and threatening. It is not just our right to speak up, but our duty—with our words and actions and our art. In solidarity...

  10. Well said! Thank you for taking a brave stand.

  11. Thank you and well said. I agree with you completely.
    How dare anyone suggest that you don't have a right to express yourself!! You and the many who marched the day after inauguration have my admiration and thanks.

  12. P.S. Nevertheless she persisted!!! Right on.

  13. Susan, I couldn't agree with you more!! Thank you for posting this! I have shared it on my Facebook page. I wish I was in a position to enter your show, but unfortunately I'm in the middle of moving and my art supplies are packed up; maybe you could make "Threads of Resistance" a yearly show over the next four years while Trump is in office? Just a thought!

  14. Well said, keep speaking out- with your words and your art!

  15. Very well said! As i read through the posts so far, each one spoke to me in the language i understand as a woman, an artist and a curious person who works in fabric and color, mostly! Susan keep speaking out- with your words and your art! And so shall we!

  16. Your words are an inspiration to me. Keep speaking them--because they matter.

  17. One of my very first quilts was made for The Ribbon Project which took place on August 4, 1985. The "ribbon" was composed of tens of thousands of hand made quilted banners illustrating the theme ``What I cannot bear to think of as lost forever in nuclear war''. It encircled the Pentagon and was stretched over ten miles. We must continue to voice our opinions through our art. Thank you, Susan, for voicing your opinion. Peace.

  18. Very well said Susan! Art is a way of making your voice heard. I do know that I have become involved in different things since this election. We must not sit on the sidelines and let what will be happen. We do need to speak up. Again, thanks for your words.

  19. We can only account for ourselves... I try to live by and taught my children to live by these words I heard - source not remembered - Is it illegal, is it illicit, is it immoral when faced with choices. Then as they left the house Make good choices was the last phrase they heard. I believe in many things but these are the foundation of how I want to be. Speaking out on issues has caused me some grief in live. But I wouldn't change it. Freedom of choice can can be a dilemma - a double edge sword. It can give the choice for people to do and believe in immoral, illegal and illicit things. I am Canadian so I technically am not involved in your political situation but it has caused a lot of disscusion in our country too. Maybe we need to look at our world and test it to my words to my kids. It would make the world a happier place.

  20. Well said! Not American but sad & worried by what is happening - stay strong, the world needs more people like you.

  21. Bravo. I am grateful to you and to everyone else who has spoken out and continues to speak out. I've gotten some blow back myself, and have lost all sorts of followers on IG and some "friends" on FB. Most recently and for the first time, I actually started to feel some real fear, and really had to think long and hard over whether or not I should continue to express myself publicly or just go quiet. Ultimately I decided that yes, I will keep expressing myself. I will keep speaking out. The fate of our country, its people and our values is simply too important to stand by and watch in silence, as all we honor and hold dear is eroded and dismantled before our very eyes.

    And on a side note... I've never been a Madonna fan, but in her defense when I saw her speak at the March in Washington, she did say that she thought about blowing up the White House, a poor choice of words, but words that were quickly taken out of context. She was expressing the frustration that had been building up inside of her since Trump was given the presidency. And that it had built up to the point where even that thought had flicked across her mind, (as thoughts do). It wasn't a call to any violent action, and immediately afterwards acknowledged that such action would not fix anything and that while good did not win the election, good would win in the end. Ultimately it was a call to action based on empowerment centered in love. It was delivered in a unapologetic in your face way, (hey, it was Madonna after all) but it wasn't a call to violence.

    1. Thanks, Victoria. I understand what you are saying about Madonna's words – I guess we all have thoughts like that sometimes! – but I still think it was the wrong thing to say. I wish she had more self control! But I appreciate her passion, and I have always loved her music.

  22. Susan, thanks for saying so clearly and so eloquently what I would like to say myself. Beautiful!

  23. Hi, Susan! I had a similar experience when I announced the Threads of Resistance call on Facebook. I run TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List ( and several of our members are involved in that show. Whew! The nastiest comments ever came out of our normally kind and gentle textile community. It took me by surprise because I posted about the Women's march on our blog and got no reaction. I had our banner on our Facebook page show one of Salley Mavor's dolls wearing a pussyhat for over a month and nobody reacted. But, when I posted the call for this show, I got the same types of comments that you did. I responded a couple of times and then decided not to engage.

    I grew up under a military dictatorship in Brazil as a missionary kid (1962-1980) and know what the face of authoritarianism looks like. I never expected to see it in this country. When the election results came in, I fell flat on my face and was in a daze for about a month. Then, I woke up and realized that he won because I, and people like me, did nothing. I haven't been involved in any civic actions for years and I think many of us have become complacent. Well, I guess we have had a rude awakening!

    I have to say that those of us who are against Trump are behaving just as badly as Trump supporters. I am so weary of all the name calling and hate that I see spewing out of both sides. Yeah, I can't believe people can find anything good about that man, but that doesn't mean that they don't have legitimate criticisms of concerns about the Democratic party. There are many things that I haven't agreed with during Obama's presidency or with Hillary's campaign. We have many social and economic problems to deal with and many of the strategies that have been used are not working. But, Trump is not the solution to them. Ugh. At any rate, I think all of us need to stick to the issues and look at having civil debates on how to fix these problems and call out personal attacks whenever we see them.

    My wake-up call has led me to become more engaged in my local community (Kentucky, in the thick of the battle ground!) and I started a new initiative where creative actions are used to encourage critical thinking and self awareness. It's called "Common Ground: Creatives in Action". The Threads of Resistance show is an example of a creative action. We have a Facebook group and are in the brainstorming phase and it's been fascinating. Quite a few people from other countries have joined. In fact, this post was shared by one of our members in our group. :)

    All are welcome to participate:

    We are not alone and it has been so encouraging to see the majority in this country stand up for justice!

  24. Thanks for speaking out----I am not going to keep my mouth shut either...You is sometimes about pain isn't it.....


I love it when you leave comments… Otherwise I feel like I'm just talking to myself! If you have time to write, please let me know what you think.