Evanston residents embroider quilt memorializing transgender individuals who died in 2019


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Melissa Blount. The artist and activist hosted a sewing circle at the Evanston Public Library for her Transgender Lives Matter Witness Quilt.

Jacob Fulton, Assistant City Editor

Just as a quilt comes together with dozens of pieces, members of the Evanston community united to embroider squares of fabric with the names of transgender individuals who died in 2019 on Saturday at Evanston Public Library.

The event is part of a long-term project by Evanston-based artist and activist Melissa Blount, who started making political art with her Black Lives Matter Witness Quilt, which was completed in 2017. Since then, Blount has continued her art, with a focus on textiles and issues of race and gender.

In 2019, she unveiled “Black Girl Magic,” a 26-piece alphabetical exhibit recognizing black women throughout history. Now, she has started the Transgender Lives Matter Witness Quilt, commemorating the lives of murdered transgender people and their stories.

Blount describes herself as an “accidental activist,” as she was inspired by her husband’s work. She said the Black Lives Matter Witness Quilt was the first quilt she ever made. In focusing on textile work, she said she is upending one narrative around black women, who have historically been placed in a more domestic role, and turning it into a story of overcoming struggles and empowerment.

“What I’m attempting to do is create empathy and awareness around how we marginalize people and often put their lives at risk,” Blount said.

Evanston resident Sherry Smith has been following Blount’s work for an extended period of time, and said she thinks the quilts can truly have an impact on those who help create them.

Smith said she has also gained a greater appreciation for the importance of unity, and understands how important it is for people to support those around them.

“I hope that it raises awareness, and I hope that by its design, I hope that it allows viewers to focus on the fact that these were individual people,” Smith said. “These were real, individual people who had something tragic happen to them, and they need our compassion and our empathy, and we need to have more of that in the world.”

Kelly Roark, an Evanston resident, said she didn’t have much embroidery experience, but was drawn to the event because of the community she hoped to find.

Roark said she appreciated the “meditative” environment the sewing circle provided as she reflected on what she learned about activism for the transgender community. She said it was especially sobering to read the story of the young woman whose quilt square she was creating.

“It really humanizes these poor people who are so fragile in our communities,” Roark said. “Our society has so much antagonism toward trans people. They’re so much more likely to be victims of crime, and it really breaks my heart.”

Blount said she believes in the power of her artwork to create change and discussions within the community, and she hopes that others will be inspired to tackle difficult subjects as a result.

“It’s easier to talk about traumatic events when you’re doing something creative,” Blount said. “When you’re doing something controversial, art can address that head on, but it’s less likely to make people defensive.”

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