The deadly van attack on pedestrians that took place in Toronto on April 23 left Torontonians in a state of shock and sadness. In this relatively safe and friendly city, any act of hate shakes us. In the days that followed, many people wondered what they could do. Some people attended vigils, expressing support for the victims and outrage at the perpetrator. Berene Campbell got to work.
Berene, a designer and quilter, has a large following in the sewing community, and she called upon caring quiltmakers to help create a work of art that would express hope, positivity, and unity in the face of this tragedy. She teamed up with the organization North York Arts and secured a bright, central space at the North York Centre, at the heart of the community where the attack happened. Today, June 25, 2018, the installation was unveiled. It consists of 71 banners, each one four inches wide and 22 feet long. They were created by people across Canada, the United States and Australia. Some came from quilt guilds such as the Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver Modern Quilt Guilds, while others came from individuals. Another group of eight banners on display was made by The Legacy Collective, a group of local quilters from South America.
Some of the colourful banners include messages of peace and love: “hope will never be silent,” “love is bigger,” “neighbours,” and “never stop the love” are just a few. Many of the banners include intricately pieced letters. Some include Korean text (reflecting the fact that three Koreans were among the dead), along with some Chinese and some Arabic. At the bottom of each banner hang strings of colourful paper disks bearing messages from the community, gathered by the local group We Love Willowdale. Together with North York Arts, the dozens of quilters who submitted their work, Berene and her team of volunteers, this collaboration created a stunning piece of community-created art.
This isn’t the first time Berene has pulled people together, connecting stitching with healing. Back in 2013, in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, she created (together with Amy Friend) To Boston With Love, a collaborative art installation whose goal was to “to bring peace and love from far and wide.” Quilters from around the world sent in more than 1700 colourful pieced flags, and a public exhibition of the flags strung together was displayed at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in May & June 2013. It was mounted again at the museum throughout the month of April 2014, to commemorate the one-year-anniversary of the bombing.
In 2016, after moving to Toronto from Vancouver, Berene organized a Quilts for Refugees project, in which 60 quilts were made and donated by sewers across North America. They were distributed, with the help of settlement agencies Romero House and CultureLink, to refugee families newly arrived in Canada.
Projects like these don’t just come together seamlessly; they must be well-curated. But when the call goes out, there can be no more generous and enthusiastic a group of makers out there than quilters. Quilting is a laborious craft that can only be made beautiful with love; love for the physical, creative and meticulous act of piecing and sewing, and care for the person who will receive the quilt, even if that person is not known. Quilters will tell you that there’s something addictive about quilting. Some say that it feels connected with healing, or with creating something truly unique, showing the world who you are. With this installation, dozens of quilters stand together, 22 feet tall, dressed in love. It’s a beautiful sight.
The Toronto LOVE Project installation will be in place from June 25 – September 8, 2018 at the North York Centre, 5140 Yonge St. in Toronto
You can learn more about North York Arts at http://www.northyorkarts.org/