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The Monument Quilt provides a public healing space for survivors of sexual violence

TheTriangleTribune

The Monument Quilt is a quilt made by stitching the stories of thousands of survivors of rape and abuse.

The idea was conceptualised by Rebecca Nagle and Hannah Brancato, artists based in Baltimore, Maryland. FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, the organization founded by them, began the Monument Quilt in the summer of 2013. It has been growing ever since, with visitors being encouraged to contribute their own stories of abuse and assault.

Resisting the widespread yet narrow notion that assigns a singular narrative to sexual violence, the Monument Quilt instead tells many stories.

The crowdsourced collection of stories aims to create a physical space where survivors can be publicly supported rather than publicly shamed. It draws from the concept of monuments as platforms where individuals and communities can grieve and heal. And in this context, a quilt’s normal attributes--warm, comforting, encompassing--take on symbolic weight.

Stories are written, stitched, and painted onto red fabric. The quilt made up of these pieces of fabric is then displayed in city and town centers as a public space for survivors to heal and emerge from their pain.

Monument Quilt has so far displayed over 1,500 crowdsourced quilt squares in 22 cities across the United States.

In 2014, FORCE took the quilt on a 13-stop trip to 12 states across the U.S., including New York, North Carolina, and Louisiana. People were allowed to read the stories as well as add their own.

The participatory art project was displayed in Baltimore last month, where the Quilt covered two entire blocks, spelling out the words “NOT ALONE”.

Through this quilt, Monument Quilt aims to create a new culture, where survivors are valued instead of stigmatized. Their bravery is lauded and showcased to create awareness.

The project also connect survivors, allowing them to come together as a community. The Quilt aims to build a community that can “listen to, believe, and support survivors” and eventually “effectively intervene, prevent, and eventually end the epidemic of sexual violence in the US.”

A survivor’s process of healing is often relegated to the private sphere, limiting not only the survivor’s ability to heal but also society’s ability to transform. Instead of treating rape like an issue that needs to be dealt with in private, the Monument Quilt views rape as a social justice issue. They thus allow the burden of sexual trauma to be carried collectively rather than individually.

Together, they are working to dismantle rape culture, so that more public spaces to address sexual violence can be created in the United States.

Writing on the quilt can also be empowering. As Rocio Moreno, a Quilt contributor says, “Each time I write on my quilt, I feel freedom, peace, and tranquility. I pour my love and support for myself and for others. I know I am not alone!” It took Moreno more than five years to leave her abusive husband. She kept her ordeal mostly to herself until she found that she was able to express herself through the Monument Quilt.

Most of all, the narrative is controlled by the survivors, and not the rapists, attackers, and society as a whole. The project shows how rape impacts different people in different ways- among many others, the stories also include those of LGBTQ people, male survivors of sexual assault, instances of domestic violence, and stories of people abused by members of their family. No two quilt squares are the same.

The quilt patches contain narratives, drawings, quotes, sentences, as well as poetry.

Some phrases read, “You are not alone,” “Rape is not an accident,” and “I did not deserve it.”

One male survivor wrote on his quilt, “It was men who taught me that assault only happens to women, robbing me of the language I needed to name and process my experience.”

For its culminating display to be held in October 2017, FORCE intends to cover over one mile of the National Mall in Washigton DC with 6,000 fabric squares that will spell out "NOT ALONE". Here’s how you can contribute to the Monument Quilt, and this is where you can view the quilt.