The Survivor Quilt Project:


ARTIST: Michelle Harris

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Childhood Sexual Abuse and Your Health
To website for:
Dr. Elaine Westerlund

The quilt is about storytelling; both weaving a story and holding the story in a way that is attuned to the audience. Some of my life stories are in this quilt. The red weavings are from Guatemala, where I lived. The white lace is my wedding shawl, and the beads on it are what my friends and siblings sent to stand in for my missing parents. The green fabric of the child figure is from a quilt I made with my tribe, the Coast Miwok. It contains a blessing I intend for my children, whose legacy as native Americans includes intergenerational trauma from slavery, genocide, and loss of culture, even as it also includes the resiliency that grows from surviving all those things. The fabric of the butterfly the child looks at comes from a second quilt, where it represents the legacy of abuse. The contrast between the butterfly's form and its meaning is ironic to me and I like to think about how carefully we need to construct the truth so the child can learn it and not face too early the overwhelming void.

The "Yellow Mother" figure is holding the silhouettes from her own history which is reflected in the lower two rectangular panels. They show what I have frequently seen, one caregiver being too distant and the other, too engulfing. Neither really seem to see or know or support the child. The Yellow Mother holds these dynamics in her body; this is often where I feel myself holding the "truth" of incest from my life. The mother and child are bowed together, sharing stories. Above the child is the weaving of the stories withheld for later, when the child is older and can better come to terms with them.

The shawl forms a triangle, a shape that is both balanced and pointed, precarious - a fulcrum. The mother is not always able to stay present, and is not always available to engage the child in the truth of her emotions. The child reaching out to her makes it a seesaw.