Reflecting on Quilted Conversations

Quilted Conversations: Voicing Challenges in Our Own Communities was a collaborative project with the Colby College Museum of Art, Colby’s Feminist Alliance, Students Organized for Black and Hispanic Unity (SOBHU), and Womxn of Color Alliance (WOCA). Quilted Conversations was inspired by the exhibition Teresa Margolles: We Have a Common Thread, on view at the Museum from September 13 through December 13, 2016. This project was composed of three workshops, which consisted of participants watching the exhibition videos and asking questions or sharing observations; creating their own quilt blocks and voicing concerns and challenges in their communities; and sharing reflections on the art-making process. The resulting quilt embodies the many stories, concerns, and life experiences of its creators: Marnay Avant, Aaliyah Michelle Bell, Jordia Benjamin, Liz Brady, Ant-quanique Dancy, Cliftine Kay Fortin, Karen Gelardi, Patricia King, Francisca Moraga López, Graciela Lopez, Nancy Mateo, Christine Nilles, Kimberly Pecina, Aremi Tapia, Diana Tuite, Miriam Valle-Mancilla, and Briana Williams.

Workshop participants gathered in the Mirken Classroom.

We are excited to publish the reflections of several workshop participants.


Teresa Margolles, american Juju for the Tapestry of Truth, 2015. Mixed media on a textile imprinted on the spot in Staten Island where Eric Garner died while being placed under arrest. Created with the participation of members of the Harlem Needle Arts cultural arts institute: Michelle Bishop, Sahara Briscoe, Laura R. Gadson, and Jerry Gant. Produced with the support of the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, SUNY, Purchase, New York. 66 x 98 in. New York City, United States. Photography by Jim Frank. Courtesy of Teresa Margolles and Galerie Peter Kilchmann

Graciela Lopez, Colby College ’18:

I really liked the workshop. I thought we created a space where we could reflect not only on Teresa Margolles’s work and the details of each project made in a different country but also on issues in our own communities. I ended up writing a paper on Margolles’s american Juju for the Tapestry of Truth (2015) for one of my education classes. I really appreciated that members of Harlem Needle Arts featured in the work’s accompanying video all had experience with police brutality or someone in their family died from that type of violence, making the textile process very personal for them. I was also attracted to the juju elements of the project and how the Harlem Needle Arts brought in incense and prayed to provide good vibes to the shroud that had touched the site where Eric Garner was killed. It was so cool. I also liked how the makers added a prayer on the back of the textile. Members of Harlem Needle Arts took this negative event and made a positive product in the end.

Nancy Mateo working on her quilt block.

Nancy Mateo, Colby College ’19:

The workshop was important in bringing the issues of violence against women and violence in general to the forefront. The piece I created in the workshop wasn’t necessarily about violence but it was more representative of my appreciation for my mother, who I think is the hardest-working woman I know. It was an appreciation for her and her culture. 

I have been returning to the event in my mind since I attended a lecture by the artist Regina José Galindo on October 26. Her work also brings attention to the issue of violence against women but she and Teresa have different ways of addressing it. Regina José Galindo took a lot of risks in her performance work, while Teresa Margolles’s work engaged many other women in its making. It was interesting to see how different Latina artists bring similar issues forward.

Aremi Tapia designing her quilt block.

Aremi Tapia, Colby College ’17:

I thought making our own quilt was a great way to interact with Teresa Margolles’s work. The videos were especially helpful in the process because they provided inspiration. The vulnerability that the women presented was very powerful and encouraged me to display my own vulnerability within my work.

Further, watching the videos before beginning the quilt-making process was essential not only in helping me think about how quilts as objects can convey messages but also by showcasing how a community of women of color can be formed by activities of making. The quilt-making process highlighted the women of color community that we have on campus and the fact that we share similar grievances.

I thought it was also interesting that through this process we were able to open up and discuss the violence that we were/are facing in our lives. The violence isn’t necessarily what creates these communities, but the fact that we all face or have faced some sort of violence is what allowed us to come and gather to create the communities in which we discussed and documented what we experienced through the quilt making. We gather around this common thread and hold on to it to try and fight the violence we face.

Cliftine Kay Fortin (right) working alongside Briana Williams ’19 (left).
An early version of Cliftine Kay Fortin’s quilt block.

Cliftine Kay Fortin, community member:

My piece represents domestic violence worldwide. The colors of the hands represent different races and cultures. Together we get stronger and go forward. The mother and child are crossed out by a belt that states “terrorism.” Someone once told me: “People talk about terrorism. I’ll tell you what terrorism is: it is being on the other side of a belt.” The butterfly represents transformation.

At first I wondered if I would be a good fit for this project. I am a person from the community who is old enough to be the grandmother of the students involved. But the more I worked with the girls and listened to their conversations, the more I enjoyed myself. I realized we were similar as well as different. We were all from a race, culture, or gender that had been forced to submit in some way.

Karen Gelardi assisting a student in the creation of her quilt block.

Karen Gelardi, teaching artist:

When I was asked to help with the workshop I was concerned about imposing a framework from my own studio practice onto the Colby community workshop participants. When it turned out that the structure of the workshop would originate from the students and packaged by Miriam Valle-Mancilla, I got very excited. Spending time as a group at Teresa Margolles’s exhibit, discussing her work, was a powerful way to make a connection between the story, making, and object. The tactile nature of the exhibit led to the workshop kicking off with so much momentum. Participants fluidly engaged in making personal works within the eleven-by-eleven-inch squares. Embroidery floss, fabric markers, felt, doll hair, sequins, ribbons and other materials— we had people using these materials to tell their stories and adding objects gathered before the workshop like nightclub wristbands, a belt, meaningful fabrics from home. It was a powerful experience to be together while working to make our experiences tangible and to see the quilt squares in conversation with each other once it was assembled.

The completed quilt hanging in the window of Common Street Arts in Downtown Waterville.