Banned Books Week--My Challenge Project

Home again, home again, jiggity jig--so now it's time to talk about my own Banned Books Week project. Admittedly, it's a bit weird as quilt projects go, and it's not going to be numbered among my favorites, but I had a lot of fun putting it together and got to play with some new stuff. So it's all good.

This year, instead of doing a book I'd already read, a few months ago I looked over the lists of banned and challenged lists to choose one that I'd not read before. I landed on the book The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. I chose this book for two reasons: The subject matter of the book is one close to my heart, addressing issues of women's freedoms, education, and oppression; and it also has a fantastic story of the attempted ban of this book in a school district and how the ban was fought by students themselves.

The Complete Persepolis is an autobiography in two volumes done as a graphic novel. Satrapi describes her life in Tehran during and after the revolution in 1979, an event which occurred when Satrapi was nine. Satrapi was the only child of two avant-garde parents who were very committed to the liberal education of their daughter. Prior to the revolution, Satrapi attended a French-Persian bilingual coed school. After the revolution the children were put into gender-exclusive schools with a curriculum subject to the revolutionaries' educational mandates. Satrapi describes the oppression, violence, and fear that she and her friends experienced daily. She's very honest about the impact that kind of setting also had on her and her friends, how they began to pick up on the violence themselves, and how it affected their relationships. The second volume of the book describes her high school years when her parents sent her to Vienna with relatives in fear for her safety, and her return to Tehran for college.

This book was removed by a district directive from all Chicago public schools in 2013 due to concerns about graphic illustrations, language, and student readiness for the subject matter. As word spread about the directive, the students themselves created a multi-media campaign including social media, writing articles for student newspapers, staging protests, checking out all the copies of the book from the school libraries, contacting the author, and appearing on local radio and TV programs. Eventually the directive was reversed and the book remained on reading lists and on the shelves in the school system.

I was taken strongly by the irony that a book about freedom would be banned. And I was taken strongly by the fact that the students who got it reinstated would so excellently show freedom in action. Students of Chicago rock! I'm proud of you!

And so...with all that background...let me now introduce you to...



The image that inspired my project is from the second volume that describes Satrapi's experience as a young adult art student in Tehran.

"We confronted the regime as best we could," she says. "In 1990, the era of grand revolutionary ideas and demonstrations was over. Between 1980 and 1983, the government had imprisoned and executed so many high-school and college students that we no longer dared talk politics. Our struggle was more discreet. It hinged on the little details. To our leaders, the smallest thing could be a subject of subversion. Showing your wrist. A loud laugh. Having a Walkman. In short...everything was a pretext to arrest us. I even remember spending an entire day at the committee because of a pair of red socks. The regime had understood that one person leaving her house while asking herself: 'Are my trousers long enough? Can my make-up be seen? Is my veil in place? Are they going to whip me?' No longer asks herself: 'Where is my freedom of thought? Where is my freedom of speech? My life, is it livable? What's going on in political prisons?'....Showing your hair or putting on makeup logically became acts of rebellion."


I was really struck by the image of red socks as a symbol of protest and subversion.

The socks are composed of a variety of fabrics to represent the freedom of diversity of human expression.

I wanted her feet to be in motion, symbolizing Satrapi's travels, as well as her ability to move forward through life despite obstacles.

I also created "stones" that both depict a street in a realistic way at the same time that they represent obstacles that those under oppression face, stumble over, and need to overcome to survive.

I'd had the image of the socks in my head for several months before I had time to actually sit down and create this project. As images in our heads tend to do, it kept getting more and more complex over time. At first, I was going to just do a basic fused applique of red socks under a fused applique black garment. Then I wanted to add stones. Then I wanted to do a dimensional garment using stiffened fabric. Then I wanted to make the socks out of scraps. Then I wanted all of the pieces to be dimensional. Yep--every one of those pieces is a 3D piece with batting, each its own little unit.That's why I took the pictures outside, so you could see the shadows the pieces cast. (All the fabrics except what's in the socks are my own hand-dyes, although that doesn't symbolize anything except they worked best for the parts I used them on.)

Each step created it's own issues I had to solve--not the least of which was how to attach everything to the quilt! I'll talk about that a little more in my podcast episode (hopefully tonight) because it's probably something better explained verbally than having an even longer blog post than this already is. 

I neglected to spread the word locally about Banned Books Week this year (it was a busy summer, but I feel terrible!) so mine is the only project being displayed in my local public library. I handed it over to my guild-friend-librarian and said, "Have fun figuring out how to hang this thing up." She solved the problem by mounting it on foam board. Brilliant woman!

Don't forget to check out everyone else's Banned Books Week quilts in the Flickr group! You've got through Saturday to enter yours. I'll be doing my drawing on Sunday; Tanesha will be doing hers on Sunday as well--she's got some great stuff in her giveaway too so be sure to check it out!. 

By the way--missed it this year? You can start thinking now about Banned Books Week in September 2015--this seems to have become an annual thing for us!