This week, New York City residents will be able to visit the first-ever public monument to survivors of sexual assault. The “Monument Quilt,” an ongoing project dedicated to honoring rape victims, will be displayed at the Queens Museum on Thursday.
The quilt includes 225 different fabric squares where survivors have stitched and painted their stories of sexual assault, victim blaming, and healing. For example, one square reads, “It’s not my fault”; another proclaims, “I am so brave. I am so resilient.” When all of the squares are laid out, they create a 100 by 100 foot quilt that’s roughly the size of two basketball courts. Large red letters spell out “YOU ARE NOT ALONE” to accompany the survivors’ stories.
The Monument Quilt is an ongoing project spearheaded by FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, a feminist activist group based out of Baltimore that’s made a name for itself with its creative actions against sexual violence. On its website, FORCE explains that stitching together survivors’ stories will hopefully help create a “new culture where survivors are publicly supported, rather than publicly shamed.”
FORCE first displayed the quilt this past spring on the National Mall in Washington, DC. It was met with a very positive reception; the group estimates that about 300 people stopped to read the quilt squares, and visitors told them how powerful it was to come across a public space acknowledging the victims of rape. Not long after that, FORCE decided to bring the Monument Quilt on the road and set it up in more cities across the United States.
So far, the quilt has traveled to North Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Iowa, and South Dakota. At each tour stop, FORCE is partnering with local domestic violence advocates and anti-violence groups to get the word out.
“I think the quilt is empowering,” Hibo Jama of Nisaa African Women’s Project, one of FORCE’s partner organizations, said in a statement. “It is a voice. It shows sexual assault victims they are valued. It is not their fault. I’ve worked with a lot of women who feel very alone in their experience. With this, they can feel supported.”
The Memorial Quilt will arrive in New York City just a week after another public monument to survivors was on display. The AIDS Memorial Quilt, which honors more than 5,000 people who lost their lives to the disease, was recently displayed in New York for the first time in over a decade. That quilt has been collecting squares since the 1980s; it remains the largest community art project in the world and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. “The Quilt has redefined the tradition of quilt-making in response to contemporary circumstances,” the website for the memorial quilt explains.
Now, FORCE hopes to carry that baton forward. “The Monument Quilt gives churches, schools, towns and our country clear and accessible steps to support survivors of rape and abuse when, often, people don’t know where to begin,” the group writes about its own quilt. “Through public recognition, the quilt reconnects survivors to their community.”