Something to Think About

Ruangrupa: Parallels to Quiltland

First this:

And then this:

I have blocked out the quilter’s name

Ruangrupa is an Indonesian Collective that “turns social experiences into art,” as Samantha Subramanian noted in a recent article in the New York Times. The name comes from two Indonesian words: ruang, which means room, and rupa, which means form, “so the group’s mashed name prizes not product but process: the physical space in which people collaborate, things take shape and art is made” (italics are mine). As I was reading about these artists, I couldn’t help but finding all kinds of parallels to Quiltland, where we all live. Here’s some tidbits from the article, and then I’ll tie it all together (stay with me, now):

“Instead of collaborating to make art, ruangrupa propagates the art of collaboration. It’s a collective that teaches collectivity.” One school of thought says that “visual arts” can be “spectacles degraded by capitalism” but ruangrupa is devoted to the collaborative process and its “chief order of business is to offer a ruang: a place for artists to meet each other, try things and fail and ignore for a while the demands and dogmas of the world outside.”

The author described visiting the ruangrupa complex in Jakarta, and noted that there was a feeling of “slow ferment — the feeling that, as people floated through one another’s orbits, they were being creatively galvanized, working all the time toward new art and new ideas. Not grand projects necessarily…but small, rich narratives with great frequency.”

Although the paragraphs above probably need to be translated out of Artist-Speak, generally they describe ruangrupa as a place where people meet and share and create new art because of that sharing. It also reminds us that “before capitalism’s fierce individualism interfered, people worked in small, sustainable collectives not only to create art but also to grow crops or put up buildings. Large families, farms and guilds were all collectives: a village was a collective of collectives” (Subramanian). (Guilds!)

So the second image, that of a Star of Hope block, with the person who put the fabric choices together proclaiming “Designed by Me!”

Actually, no.

It started with an Ohio Star shape from Nancy Cabot, Brackman 1631b. The next derivation was 1631c and has ten different names.

Brackman 1631d, the one shown above (and from Barbara Brackman’s Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns, as well as Blockbase Plus software) has this heritage:

from Blockbase Software

I chose the name Star of Hope, and you can see it’s from the 1920s to the 1940s. So what’s the connection between ruangrupa and Quiltland? A single thread: collaboration, creating by working through a collective of hundreds of women, some here now, some alive in the 1940s and some stitching in the 1800s. They are our ruangrupa, and we honor them and our quilting heritage when we call the blocks by their correct names, not claiming them for our own. Every artist borrows from one another, however, it’s probably good practice to acknowledge the inspiration.

And the series of photos at the top? Aren’t workshops, quilt meetings and retreats another form of ruangrupa? Don’t we, when in small groups or in our guilds, “[work] all the time toward new art and new ideas. Not grand projects necessarily…but small, rich narratives with great frequency”? Having taught guild workshops, I always brought a few extra bits of fabric to trade, and then I noticed quilters trading across the class, too. We’ve learned to work in a collective, to create small, rich stories and we do it often. It’s the best part of this quilting world, I believe.

pattern from here

I had another small, rich narrative happen this week.

I was making these happy blocks because of another task this week: listening to the January 6th Commission Hearings and not only because this storming of the capital was on my birthday (!). America is a collective, and we’ve worked hard in groups to collaborate, those early Founding Fathers setting up our Constitution and our way of life. We let a lot of that ideal slip away from us, claiming that we alone can do it (like claiming an Ohio Star Block as your own design). But lately, with Volodymyr Zelenskyy reminding us of what democracy and courage looks like, we seem to have woken out of a deep sleep. I decided that watching the J6 Hearings was something I could do to decide for myself, to learn and listen.

Those nine-patches of blue, with sunny yellow centers, kept me grounded through the hard parts, the tense videos, the growing realization that our American collective had been ruptured. I thrive in my quilt collective, and want to thrive in my nation, too. I hope we can come together and rebuild, put together “small, rich [stories]” while we “try things and fail and ignore for a while the demands and dogmas of the world outside.”

Take a breath…and quilt ~

Notes on this post:

I wrote another time about America being a collective, borrowing words from Walt Whitman, in my post about my quilt, I Hear America Singing.

Nine-patch has to be one of my all-time favorite blocks. I’m also quite fond of this one, another traditional block from our quilt heritage.

10 thoughts on “Ruangrupa: Parallels to Quiltland

  1. Thank you for today’s post – I love everything about it! In a talk I gave on why I’m passionate about quilting, being a part of the quilting community was a major reason. Living in “quiltland” has been central to my well being for some time now😊. I am knowledgeable about quilt history and it drives me crazy when I see some quilters claim credit for traditional designs so thanks for calling this out! I agree with you about our democracy and have watched every hearing. I worry about the corruption, amorality, irrationality, misinformation, and greed all around us, especially in those in power. I still have hope that good will triumph over evil, but it’s getting harder 🙁. Thank you again!

  2. Well first, happy birthday, my friend!!! Second, I am so supportive of buying a pattern even if I can draft it. We want great designers like you to keep designing! That being said, I think Moda and others need to raise the bar and clarify “designed”. It demeans the rich history of quilting to lay claim to historical designs. Imagine the outcry if I took credit for blurry paintings of water lilies!!

  3. I am hopeful that we are waking out of sleep. I certainly am a firm believe that there is so much more that unites us than what divides us, and my continued wish is that we can all set down our phones and devices and truly look at, listen, and begin to remember those deep connections.

  4. A well-known quilter once told me, “I am a competitive quilter.” I think that is a bizarre idea. To me, quilting is definitely collaborative, both across our current contacts and across generations as your block history above points out I know there are people who design/make quilts primarily to “win” at shows, but I guess I want to call them something other than quilters. Or just live and let live, maybe, but to me that’s not what quilting is about.

  5. Your very thoughtful posts are what keeps me coming back time and again. You always give me reasons to ponder more than what’s in my own little corner of the world. Thank you.

  6. Without getting too political, I would just like to say that the J6 “hearings” are one side of the story…there is much more to it. When they ask Nancy Pelosi why she didn’t call in the National Guard as Pres Trump requested, maybe we’ll understand more of people’s motives…

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