Thursday, July 4, 2013


In early 2013 I saw an announcement requesting entries for art quilts in an exhibit entitled Light, Hope, Opportunity sponsored by Quilt for Change, a group out of Rhode Island.  Rules were straight-forward: 24” square art quilt on the theme of how insufficient energy sources impact women worldwide.   I knew at once that I wanted to do a piece on the Mexican women working at American maquilladoras in Juarez, Mexico.  These unskilled, minimally paid, mostly young women make products for the American consumer market in well-equipped modern factories.  Hundreds of them, upon leaving work, walk home, often after dark, and have been raped and murdered. There is no safe transit for them, and much of the city is not properly illuminated: no light, little hope, trifling opportunity.

   Though I have done a lot of artwork on global themes – mostly focusing on water    issues – this one especially touched me.  I carefully thought through and designed a    piece I hoped would tell the story in 576 square inches; I named it Juarez.  Pink is a    color I rarely use but here I dyed the background fabric pink and sprayed it in a    splatter pattern with red ink to indicate both female and blood – pretty common    symbols.  I chose to build a cross from some Indian metal chain.  Mexico is a country    in which every city and town has a Catholic church and the cruciform symbol is as    richly complex as one can be; it runs the gamut of love, motherhood, protection to    deceit, violence, male dominance and material wealth.  And MUCH else.  I am not    personally a member of a religion which employs the cross in its symbology, but I   am well aware of its pervasive and varied connotations. 

Onto the pink ground I printed a schematic map of Juarez where it meets the US border, applied the metal cruciform then richly hand embroidered dimensionally across the underlying materials, enhancing and quite graphically depicting the blood and emotional loss which represent the theme of the piece – lack of light and transit in Juarez allowing for horrific crimes against these women.  The artwork is intentionally disturbing, which is appropriate to the theme.

Quilt for Change requested images of the work in progress which I sent, and I was eventually delighted to learn that Juarez had been accepted into their traveling exhibition (2013-2015).  Off the show went in June, 2013, to its grand opening at the Palais des Nations, the United Nations’ headquarter in Geneva, Switzerland.  What a thrill!  Beautiful building, thousands of people walking through, nice display panels but . . . what’s this???  My work was tossed by the UN Cultural Commission at the last minute.  While pictures of bright-eyed Moslem girls in headscarves were fine, a cross on a piece about Mexico is no go.

I realize I’m in GREAT company:  James Joyce, Mark Twain, Marc Chagall, John Steinbeck, Ai Weiwei, etc., etc., all had work banned.  But shame on the UN, an organization I’ve had nothing but respect for up to this point, for shying away from unpleasant truth.  Light?  Hope?  Definitely NO opportunity.

The show will travel to various venues in the US, and I’ve been told Juarez will take its rightful place in the exhibits when it does.  Will it disturb some viewers?  I certainly hope so!


  1. Dear Deborah, LOVE your work and the story of the women in Juarez, Mexico. I too knew the story about the 100 or more women who have sadly been raped, tortured and then murdered, and I found it horrifying, esp. since the Juarez police did little or nothing when they knew a lot more than let on about the whole ugly thing. Thank you so much for bringing this to light for the many. I love the piece and love that you chose this theme. It was a perfect one. You are a woman after my own soul! Peace and many blessings always, Annie

  2. wonderful - thank you for bringing the story forward and for sharing it with us and the world. Pink can be the carrier of the message. joanell

  3. Thanks for the support guys! I thought the topic, though disturbing, was worth bringing to light. Guess it pushed a few buttons . . .

  4. Striking powerful piece! This piece is a wonderful support for the plight of those women. Linda

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  6. What a thought provoking piece. I am disgusted that the UN chose to forcibly cheat the public of its message, by disallowing it's participation. I find it absolutely incredible that
    the symbol of the cross is so intimidating to these people that they would ban your work, while simultaneously allowing other religious symbols to be artistically voiced. Be proud of what you've accomplished. Your art will probably call more attention to this cause by virtue of their ignorance.

  7. Having just read the story of your quilt (in Ozquilt network newsletter) I honestly can't see what there was to ban. Perhaps you gave them too much information in your statement instead of just letting the chosen title evoke most of it in people's minds. I think people have heard quite a lot about Juarez as it has been featured on news and docos all over the world - I know, because I have come across it many places. On the other hand, some of the same kind of stuff happens to less marked degree many other places where such manufacturing conditions prevail, and the UN and its agencies are a toothless tiger, gutless too of course - offering no actual help to people suffering under such systems. Why would they stand up to the corruption of the official (in)justice and law and order systems that are controlling what does and doesn't happen in Juarez?