Kristin Miller and Darlene Mace
Gabriola Island, British Columbia, Canada
The Barbie Quilt is a collective work. It was created by women and men participants at the Joint Gathering of AERC/CASAE at the University of Victoria, British Columbia in May 2004. We decided that the workshop at this conference had to be “hands-on”, with the participants actually making a quilt, as well as discussing how such quilts could be used effectively to promote a cause or bring attention to a social or political issue. Initially, we were stymied because a social activism quilt, by definition, has to “say something”. We needed a theme that people of diverse interests and experiences could respond to. Darlene suggested making quilt squares from the point of view of a Barbie Doll.
Participants were told to imagine themselves as Barbie the Doll, a woman who has grown tired of her stereotypes and how the world reacts to her, and who wants to make a quilt to express her concerns about important issues that affect women. At the end of two hours, nine quilt squares had been made. The nine squares explored themes of body image, cultural diversity, mastectomy, war and rape, reading the "context" of a message, social activity vs. social activism, and teaching kids good eating habits. A separate art piece was also made that celebrated balance and sexuality.
Following the workshop, a table was set-up in the main conference area - amongst an entire exhibition of women’s arts/crafts - in order to invite other participants of the conference to join us for “Public Quilting”, an important activity with several purposes. Firstly, it got the hand-quilting done—the three layers of the quilt were stitched together and embellished over the course of the three day conference. Secondly, the public “quilting bee” provided a comfortable atmosphere where people could talk to each other. Because of the theme of the quilt and the focus of the conference, many anecdotes and ideas about social justice were shared. Thirdly, quilting in public added to the ambiance of the art exhibit and brought an unexpected quirkiness to the academic conference, which people seemed to enjoy. It gave the quilters an opportunity to talk to people about the messages behind the quilts, and to engage them in constructive dialogue.