RFJ’s Remembering Quilt on Display at the Boston Public Library Throughout July
The Relatives for Justice Remembering Quilt is to be hosted at the Boston Public Library during the month of July. The Remembering Quilt is a project that has been running for almost a decade now by Relatives for Justice in which families who are bereaved as a result of the conflict in Ireland make a 9’inch square in memory of their loved one which is then completed into a 8ftx8ft quilted panel consisting of 49 squares. Currently there are 8 completed quilt panels and the 9th is ongoing with plans already underway for a 10th panel.
The project has involved several thousand participants representing approximately 430 bereaved families to date whereby each family internally consult, design and make their personal squares in memory of their loved ones supported by Relatives for Justice family support staff and volunteers. The squares often depict values, hobbies and interests to professions and trades of those killed providing a sense of each individual, precious and unique life they lived and of how they touched those closest to them rather than just being statistics or just another killing. Some squares use fabric of clothing and personal items belonging to the deceased.
The Remembering Quilt is unique in that the bereaved are empowered directly through the medium of art and creative expression to positively and lovingly articulate the lives lived, the circumstances relating to killings, the impact that this has had on those left behind, and to join with many other families similarly affected by violent bereavement thus ending isolation and beginning the journey towards individual and collective healing through other Relatives for Justice support programmes.
Additionally the Remembering Quilt is an important source of community documentary and historical record by extra-ordinary people who have suffered loss – commonly referred to in post conflict situations as the recovery of historical memory. It is an inspiration of self empowerment that transcends the medium of modern day media in which the loss of life was oftentimes merely a mention and communicates more widely and poignantly so much more about the awful human devastation that was at times an everyday occurrence. Importantly it equally reflects a broader dimension of the person killed from those who knew them best.
The paradox is that the Remembering Quilt is a beautiful testimony of the love and dedication of those left behind who mourn and miss their loved ones whilst equally being a symbolic reminder, lest we forget, of the human toll of our conflict and for us to collectively say never again.
Speaking in advance of the Remembering Quilt going to Boston Relatives for Justice (RFJ) Chairperson, Clara Reilly said:
‘It is a great privilege for RFJ to be invited to the Boston Public Library to display the Remembering Quilt at such a prestigious venue. I know that it will mean so much to all the families involved especially given the large Irish Diaspora who live in Boston. This will provide a great opportunity for this constituency of people to find out and learn more about those killed during the conflict first hand via the Remembering Quilt. And we invite all the citizens of Boston to view the Remembering Quilt.
‘We are also excited with our connections to the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies University of Massachusetts Boston who have worked tirelessly to facilitate and support the event. Hopefully our experiences through the Remembering Quilt in dealing with violence, loss and memory can act as a tool of empowerment, self and collective expression in terms of other communities addressing loss and hardship through the medium of art and we look forward to engaging with local communities whilst in Boston around these experiences and models of best practice.
‘Our Remembering Quilt has its origins in the exclusive debates and civic memorials that took place after the first ceasefires in which there existed a hierarchy of victimhood whereby those killed by the British State and through collusion were deemed to be somewhat less deserving – if at all deserving – and who were at that time actively excluded from the term ‘victim’. Of course the purpose of these debates was to continue war by different means and to somehow try to justify the unjustifiable. As our organisation represents the vast majority of those affected by State violence we sought to publicly address this exclusion, including the accompanying hurt and insult to injury that it caused to numerous families. We equally had to find another way of supporting families regarding loss and memory whilst at the same time reaching out to others also affected by the conflict to create awareness and understanding about our collective loss irrelevant of religion, politics or circumstances of killings in which no one bereaved was excluded but rather included. This was challenging but nonetheless essential, especially in seeking to constructively engage those who were attempting to demonize us. The Remembering Quilt includes people affected by all participants to the conflict in Ireland and has challenged very successfully the notion and hierarchy of victimhood post conflict.
‘It was in these discussions about how best we remember that the Remembering Quilt emerged principally because it gave ownership of the process of remembrance to those directly affected, was creative and facilitated expression, brought people into contact with one another, opened doors and provided further opportunities for support and trauma recovery work. So the process was as equally important as the beautiful end product. And this continues to be the case.
‘The Remembering Quilt is a derivative of the International Aids Quilt and of the great American quilting traditions. Indeed the in the aftermath of the American Civil War widows came together to quilt at a time of loss and when there existed no counselling, clinical or therapeutic terms regarding mental health and how people and communities addressed their individual and collective trauma regarding violent bereavement. And so the sense of importance in terms of the Remembering Quilt being displayed in Boston as part of our modern day experience of addressing the loss during the conflict in Ireland takes on much more significance. Giving the passage of time the parallels are very similar in many ways.
‘Guatemalan Human Rights lawyer Frank La Rue, and friend of RFJ, on a visit to Ireland summed up what the Remembering was to become when he said; ‘… that death is indeed the end of life – but it is not the end of identity. The continuity of life lives on – the threads of how people lived their lives and what they did, the impacts they had, and the legacies they leave live on and their memories flow in the river of continuity and purpose of life which live on with each and every one of us who loved and knew them, and beyond. The worst thing that we can do is to forget those memories and those identities.’
‘The hands that embraced loved ones, wiped tears from their eyes, cradled and cared for them in times of need – hands that held them close, that natured and nourished them and which carried them to their final place of rest are the very hands that made this Remembering Quilt. Their identities and memories are cherished and we in Relatives for Justice are deeply humbled to have been part of this important work.
We are delighted that the people of Boston, and indeed of other nearby cities, will have the opportunity to see the Remembering Quilt during the month of July.’
For further information please contact Relatives for Justice 44 2890220100 firstname.lastname@example.org and/or Patricia Peterson at the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies University of Massachusetts BostonPatricia.Peterson@ubm.edu