Quilt of Belonging
Sharing Canada's diverse heritage and stories in fabric
Quilters from across the country are carefully piecing together the cultural heritage of almost 300 aboriginal and immigrant groups that make up the diverse fabric of our national identity. But Invitation: Quilt of Belonging, a 140-by-12-foot community art project, is not a crazy quilt of disparate backgrounds.
Using traditional materials and techniques, such as Irish linen, caribou hide from Nunavik and beading and embroidery, the tapestry tells the stories of Canada's citizens in stitches. The work-in-progress is the brainchild of artist Esther Bryan.
"The quilt is a symbolic way of showing that there is a place for absolutely everyone in this world," says the determined woman, who started the project in 1998 from her Williamstown home near Cornwall. "Textile is a media that everyone is involved with. It's the fabric of everyday life."
The Quilt of Belonging has attracted volunteers from Vancouver to Halifax, from the high Arctic to Hogtown, but it sprang from Ms. Bryan's experiences as a French immigrant with Slovakian heritage. After the Iron Curtain fell, Ms. Bryan visited Slovakia with her father, a former refugee who escaped the Holocaust. "There was both joy and grief," she says. "Some family didn't survive, and some were OK. My father was the only one who got out."
Back in Canada, she created Point of Return, a textile collage documenting the experience. It was exhibited at the Cornwall Regional Art Gallery. Response was overwhelming, and Ms. Bryan learned that others were struggling with the same questions about their heritage that she was: Where is home, and where do we belong?
The Quilt of Belonging strives to answer some of those questions.
"The quilt, hopefully like good art, is designed to provoke discussion," says Ms. Bryan. "It's a chance to discuss ideas about how we treat each other, who we are and where we fit in." She wants to inspire people to explore each other's ethnic heritage. "You can't tell the story of Indian textile or culture in a 19-inch square, but you can say, here's a sample."
Canada's almost 80 distinct aboriginal communities form the foundation of the project, which involves both artists and non-artists. The non-profit group now in charge of Invitation plans a comprehensive book weaving first-person narratives with a history of textiles for each culture, and Ms. Bryan hopes to one day produce a documentary film about the quilt.
Once completed, Quilt of Belonging will tour the country and could become part of the Museum of Civilization's permanent collection.
Invitation: Quilt of Belonging is a 140-by-12-foot tapestry celebrating Canada's multicultural heritage. It devotes one block to each ethnic group, and has completed about one-third of its almost 300 blocks. If you'd like to sponsor a block, help with research and block-making or find out more information, visit www.invitationproject.ca or call (613) 347-2381 or 1-877-347-2381.
Esther Bryan will be speaking at the Ottawa Women's Canadian Club's luncheon this Thursday at the Château Laurier. Tickets are $31 (non-members). Call 521-4853 to register.