Stitching for Peace and Social Justice

Tikkun Olam is a Hebrew word meaning “world repair”. We are not required to complete the job of healing the world, but we are mandated to try. Building a better world is serious work, but it doesn’t have to be onerous. We travel the roads to social change, shining as we go. For me, stitching for social change is one of those roads.

Anna Colombo

Many years ago, while watching a film on Jewish feminism, I saw a short clip of Women in Black, the Israeli peace activists who took to the streets, holding signs that said in Hebrew, English and Arabic, “Stop the Occupation”. I was struck by both their mission and their visual effectiveness and I started depicting them in my artwork.

During my research, I came across a photograph of an elderly woman carrying the distinctive hand-shaped sign protesting the occupation. The caption read, “This woman is demonstrating because her family was killed in Auschwitz, and she doesn’t want the Palestinians to suffer as she has suffered”. Inspired, I stitched her portrait with her words embroidered behind her.

In 1994, I attended a Women in Black conference in Jerusalem, and I found the subject of my portrait. Her name was Anna Colombo, she was 86 years old, and those were indeed her words. I gave her the portrait I had made of her. We started corresponding, and she wrote me that she had once been asked why she wasn’t afraid living in Europe under Hitler, and she had replied, “Why should I be afraid? All Hitler can do is kill me, but he can never be right”. Anna Colombo became one of my heroes, and although we lost touch, I took great pleasure in telling her story over the years.

In 2007 I returned to Israel and Palestine and met with a number of Israeli human rights groups and Palestinian non-violent resistance groups. The regular Friday noon Women in Black vigil in Jerusalem was on our agenda. I was amazed and delighted to find Anna Colombo, still at the vigil, still dressed in black, now 98 years old, and proudly holding her Stop the Occupation sign for all to see. She remembered me perfectly, and we spoke through a translator who was herself, in her eighties. I asked her why after so many years, she continued to attend this demonstration.  She replied, “At my age, it is one of the few things I can still do to make a difference”.

More Stitching for Peace and Justice

Food Drops in Afghanistan

Text reads: one bean and potato vinaigrette – one beans with tomato sauce – one shortbread cookie – one fruit bar – one fruit pastry – one peanut butter – one strawberry jam – one condiment packet with salt pepper & sugar – one plastic spoon & matches – one moist towelette

Iraqi woman buying vegetables

I made the original of this  piece in fabric during the 1991Gulf War because it occurred to me that the “enemy” were just ordinary people going about their daily business.  Later my friend Bill Horne created this edition of silkscreen prints in 17 colours which we sold to raise money for Palestinian and Israeli organizations that were doing justice and co-existence work.

Oh Palestine

Stop the Occupation

Women in Black have stood for 20 years in Jerusalem protesting the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Demonstrators in Montreal

Demonstrators in Montreal in 2012 bang their pots and pans in opposition to Bill 78 restricting protests of tuition fee increases.

Resistance is Fertile

This piece is part of a series I made after the huge and heartening 2017 international women’s marches. I heard a radio commentator say that in a few weeks the momentum would be lost and the march forgotten. I thought “Not on my watch!” and starting documenting in fabric all the signs that appealed to me.

Get You Politics Off My Body

On Strike

Garment workers of many backgrounds stand together for their rights

We Demand Work

‘We Demand Work’ was modelled after a photo of a 1930 Labour Zionist May Day march in Winnipeg.