Second of a 2-part blog
(We were showing a group of homeless people around an exhibition of their own work at Manchester Metropolitan University...)
We moved onto the big pieces, the textiles. Here are fragments of stories, the lives of homeless people, embroidered onto quilts and painted on ceramics, often by the tellers themselves. They are responses to simple questions - which don’t have simple answers. When were you warm? When were you cold?
The group had only seen the pieces as little scraps of cloth, not sewn together into the large, communal artworks that they'd now become. They'd come in from a bitterly cold day and were suffering from the bite of winter. But as they warmed in the space, they also warmed up to the work. We started to hear expressions of delight, of pride.
People talked about being physically cold, but also emotional warmth: 'The atmospherte, people's handiwork, people's hearts. The art makes it homely in here. It's real. Makes it homely when people pour their hearts out. I feel relaxed and I'm not usually, I'm usually on edge...' (Maureen)
From shepherding a little group of - what felt to me - very fragile people we were suddenly in the presence of artists. They expanded to fit the role, the room - relaxing in the sofas by the artworks and chatting about the meaning of it all, the FEELING of being a maker. The project was devised to help people develop new skills, socialise and build confidence - and in this moment that was precisely what it achieved.
Volunteer student helpers from the Embroidery and MA Textiles Department at Manchester Metropolitan University also helped to stitch the work and made quilts in reply. Volunteers from the Women's Institute additionally lent their needles and expertise.
The project challenges stereotypes about homelessness, combating hate crime against homeless people and emphasizing needs shared by us all – especially shelter and acceptance. Lines from the denim quilt are currently being shown as text animations by the BBC, on Big Screens in Manchester and Liverpool.
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