By Kathrin Winkler, World BEYOND War, May 24, 2021
During my decades of teaching in rural Ontario, trips with students to city art galleries were
exciting adventures that often animated discussions and inspired student work. One exhibit
at the Ontario Gallery of Art that provoked questioning militarism was Barbara Hunt’s
“Antipersonnel” series, a room full of warm fuzzy objects in various shades of pink. They
looked a little like assorted tea kettles, but were 50 knitted landmine sculptures. The ghastly
contrast of the variants of instruments that cause dismemberment wrapped in soft, domestic
yarns went straight to the marrow. My students stopped in their tracks and I have never
forgotten her work.
Art activism and war both have lasting effects, yet one gives and the other takes. Those
long lasting effects of instruments of war on civilian populations cannot be measured yet
grief has a life of its own, stretching generations, sometimes to be resurrected in healing
and sometimes breathing revenge into lives not yet lived. As a teacher I also remember how
a safe return from those school trips was always on our mind. Flat tires, icy road conditions
or illness were our worries, not bombs.
“Knot Bombs” is a banner that will memorialize the Yemeni children killed by a bomb attack
in August 2018. 38 children died and 40 were wounded when a Lockheed Martin Bomb hit
their school bus on a school trip. The banner has the names of each child embroidered in
Arabic and English and includes 48 border squares, 39 large feathers and over 30 small
feathers have been sewn by community members from many groups including Nova Scotia
Voice of Women for Peace, Halifax Raging Grannies, the Muslim Women’s Study Group,
Immigrant and Migrant Women’s Association of Halifax, Sanghas, Buddhist nuns and other
faith based groups, the National Board of Voice of Women for Peace and friends from sea
to sea to sea.
The 89 by 59 inches banner was made in several stages in order to work around covid
restrictions. We met on zoom and the cloth pieces were sent to participants by mail and
returned by post as well. The border squares of individual design frame two birds, mother
and child, that swoop over a darkened and broken city scape. Along the lower border there
is a column of LAV’s (LIght Armoured Vehicles), drones fly and bombs fall from fighter jets
raining down onto ruins of homes. Each of the 19 jets represents $1 billion that the Canadian
taxpayers are shoveling into the fighter jet procurement. The feathers of the birds carry the
embroidered children’s names and ages. Stitching invokes creating imaginative connections
and often the sense of a grandmotherly caring from a distant past. Stitching a shroud does
not usually surface first in our thoughts. One of the women participants in “Knot Bombs” felt
she was doing just that by stitching the name of an 8 year old child in Arabic and English as
a part of this project.
The purpose of the project is multi dimensional. First of all, the women who participated were
able to connect around the issue of memorializing victims of injustice by sewing cloth. In all
cultures sewing is a way of providing protection through clothing ( in some cases homes)
and the makers are often unnamed artists. Most of us are not expert sewers, but there is
exquisite craftwomynship among the pieces. Secondly, there is a hopelessness around the
fighter jets politics of aggression, and yet, we want to recognize loss, and acknowledge that as a nation which continues dealing and producing arms, we are connected to the aggression.
Grief is liminal and memory activism reminds us that we can turn the page on the continued
killing and suffering created by military actions yet the families of loved ones gone forever
carry this sorrow. We can grieve in this way even though we understand that those families
live out that grief daily and differently.
The display of the banner is also part of the project. We hope to have a moving display of
the banner beginning with Nocturne 2021 in Halifax. Sites could include, but are not limited
to the Women’s Council House, Lockheed Martin headquarters, Raytheon, the Central
Public Library, Armament Technology (one of Canada’s small arms manufacturers, including
sniper rifles), a Royal Legion and the Cambridge Military Library at the Royal Artillery Park
Lockheed Martin has a facility in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. The largest defence contractors in
the world armour themselves in website phrases such as “Innovation and Purpose are built
into everything we do”. In February on youtube, their self congratulatory ad boasted that
the company delivered the 50,000th rocket system ( GMLRS) known as the ‘70 kilometer
sniper rifle.’ Canada is bargaining with the devil as it considers the new fighter jet contracts
to the funeral tune of $19 billion.
What must it be like for the families living in war torn fear? They must slide from hope to
terror in an endless tail spin. We can’t make enough banners to mark the loss around us.
Since we began the project, the death toll in a May bomb attack that targeted schoolgirls in
Kabul has risen to 85. Gaza has been on fire, and it is a mockery of our humanity to call the
faces of sacrificed children buried, wounded, and dying ‘ collateral damage.’
But how is it that ‘our sons and daughters’ have lives that weigh heavier on the scale of loss
than an Afghani or Yemeni child? How do the lives of those that take to the skies with honour
under the wings of patriotism outweigh the lives of those waiting for clean water?
We bear witness to the famine of courage and strength in a politics of compromise and
concealment and harm. Preparation for war is a machine that churns away between
rhetoric and rubble. Stitching peace reminds us that we must act in this moment with
relentless conviction to stop the murderous industry that willingly sacrifices children.