Handcrafted blankets on display at MODA destined to be gifts for new immigrants

Blankets on display as part of the Welcome Blankets exhibit at MODA. / Courtesy of MODA

Credit: MODA

caption arrowCaption
Blankets on display as part of the Welcome Blankets exhibit at MODA. / Courtesy of MODA

Credit: MODA

Credit: MODA

Blink, and you might miss the pop-up exhibition of colorful, handcrafted blankets on display in the gift shop at the Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA). But The Welcome Blanket Project, running through Jan. 16, is a perfect metaphor for the monumental changes that are possible when art provokes activism.

Jayna Zweiman, an architect who uses design to enact social change via crowd-sourced art projects, is the creator and founder of Welcome Blanket. She started the initiative as a rebuke to anti-immigrant sentiment fomented during the 2016 presidential election cycle.

“After seeing the response to Trump’s proposal for a border wall, Jayna wanted to set up a way to connect us . . . and her connection was through yarn,” said Miranda Hazelwood, MODA’s visitor experience manager, who curated the exhibit.

The project is a reconceptualization of the 2,000-mile length of the proposed border wall as a 2,000-mile length of yarn used to make individual welcome blankets for immigrants coming to the United States. More than 6,000 blankets from around the world have been knitted, sewn, quilted, crocheted, woven, felted and donated since 2017.

caption arrowCaption
A blanket that's part of MODA's "Welcome Blankets" exhibit. / Courtesy of MODA

Credit: MODA

A blanket that's part of MODA's "Welcome Blankets" exhibit. / Courtesy of MODA

Credit: MODA

caption arrowCaption
A blanket that's part of MODA's "Welcome Blankets" exhibit. / Courtesy of MODA

Credit: MODA

Credit: MODA

Selected exhibitions have been hosted, including those at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, The Smithsonian in Washington, DC, and MODA, which received up to 50 blankets a day when they hosted a precursor to this year’s show, “Making Change: The Art and Craft of Activism,” in the summer of 2018.

“[The blankets] are the first thing you see in the project,” Zweiman said during a phone interview from her home in Los Angeles, “but underlying them is connecting people, making spaces and harnessing passion to help make positive change.”

The criteria for extending a warm welcome to people whose lives have been upended by forced relocation are simple.

Participants can deliver or mail 40-inch x 40-inch blankets and welcome notes to MODA. The museum will photograph, catalog and hang selected blankets in the museum’s lobby for visitors to enjoy before delivering them to newcomers via refugee resettlement partners. MODA has also created spaces to amplify the message of welcome by hosting craft circles, performances, discussions, forums and legal assistance for immigrants.

The significance of seeing heirlooms elevated to art objects in a museum context is not lost on Zweiman. A self-avowed “terrible knitter,” she is keenly aware of how the value of handcrafts, or other work typically attributed to women, is often downplayed and overlooked by curators and cultural gatekeepers. It would be a mistake, she said, to underestimate the major impact of seemingly humble gestures.

“My grandfather used to tell the story of seeing the Statue of Liberty when he first came from the old country -- knowing that he’d arrived,” says Zweiman, whose elders migrated to the United States from what is now Poland. “Modern ports of entry don’t offer that (heightened) experience. There’s no sense of arrival at the Los Angeles airport’s baggage claim carousel. But we have an opportunity to create intimate symbols of welcome through the welcome blankets that recipients can see and feel, touch and wrap themselves in like a warm hug.”

caption arrowCaption
Part of the "Welcome Blankets" exhibit at MODA. / Courtesy of MODA

Credit: MODA

Part of the "Welcome Blankets" exhibit at MODA. / Courtesy of MODA

Credit: MODA

caption arrowCaption
Part of the "Welcome Blankets" exhibit at MODA. / Courtesy of MODA

Credit: MODA

Credit: MODA

Zweiman has worked for the Democratic National Committee, Bill Clinton (while she was an undergraduate at Brown University) and the National Economic Council. She was no stranger to political activism even before she launched the Pink Pussyhat design with fellow “craftivist” Krista Suh in 2016. Both grassroots efforts attracted a tribe Zweiman described as “kind, proactive, creative and courageous.”

So far, furriers from France have contributed blankets, as have children from the Lab Schools at the University of Chicago, where K-12 pupils took on the project as part of their curriculum. Native Americans, descendants of the Mayflower, Holocaust survivors and recent immigrants have also responded to the call for kindness. And the heartfelt notes that have accompanied blankets are a testament to people’s capacity to recognize their shared humanity in the faces of complete strangers.

Zweiman laughed as she recalled one of the more succinct messages a second-grader from Brookline, Massachusetts, delivered with his blanket: “My family came from India. Welcome!” And she choked up while considering letters that seek to amplify the point that all new neighbors are welcomed here.

IF YOU GO

“The Welcome Blanket Project”

Through Jan. 16. Noon.-7 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays. MODA, 1315 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 404-979-6455, museumofdesign.org/

On Feb. 5, MODA will host Quilting with Hope: Preserving a Legacy, an in-person workshop presented by Atlanta-based master quilter Marquetta Bell Johnson of Marquetta B Quilting.


caption arrowCaption
ArtsATL logo

Credit: ArtsATL

ArtsATL logo

Credit: ArtsATL

caption arrowCaption
ArtsATL logo

Credit: ArtsATL

Credit: ArtsATL

Working closely with the American Press Institute, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is embarking on an experiment to identify, nurture and expand a network of news partnerships across metro Atlanta and the state.

Our newest partner, ArtsATL (www.artsatl.org), is a nonprofit organization that plays a critical role in educating and informing audiences about metro Atlanta’s arts and culture. Founded in 2009, ArtsATL’s goal is to help build a sustainable arts community contributing to the economic and cultural health of the city.

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be introducing more partners, and we’d love to hear your feedback.

You can reach Managing Editor Mark A. Waligore via email at mark.waligore@ajc.com.