Craftivism for Refugee Week

Posted on June 19, 2012


Last Saturday, Sarah Corbett, founder of the Craftivist Collective, came to Cardiff to do a workshop at St Fagans alongside the Refugee House exhibiton which is at the museum until 1 July.

Craftivism = craft + activism. I first came across the idea when I got involved with some of the Craftivist Collective’s meetings and projects while living in London. But since moving back to Cardiff last year I haven’t done any so I was excited to hear they were coming to Cardiff and I could enjoy some socially minded group craft again. I went along to St Fagans at the start of Refugee Week 2012 with craft blogger Elena Cresci, also fresh out of Cardiff Journalism School.The workshop table

Enigmatic Craftivist Collective founder, Sarah Corbett, came to her passion after becoming burnt out as an activist. Feeling she didn’t fit into any existing campaign groups, she was also keen to do more craft and after an internet search came across craftivism, a term coined by Betsy Greer. Sarah worked as a Lonely Craftivist until the ever growing Craftivist Collective began.

The Collective actively tries to reach people who may be intimidated or uninterested in more traditional forms of campaigning and have been successful in getting coverage in media that normally wouldn’t be so embracing about activism. They often use the phrase ‘a spoonful of craft helps the activism go down’ to describe themselves.

Sarah is passionate about craftivism as activism and adamant it can make a difference. She points to the example of beautiful appliqués made by Chilean women which were smuggled out of the country which is said to have played an important role in raising international awareness about people’s suffering under the Pinochet regime.

My banner

My banner: To eventually read ‘Asylum seekers are looking for a place of safety’

I went to the second workshop of the day and many people had the bug already, coming back for a second time to finish off their mini protest banners. There was about 12 people there, from school children to middle age, and predominately women. We made mini protest banners, a Craftivist Collective staple. The banners are small stitched slogans, quotes or statistics to raise awareness about an issue. They are meant to be places around cities, in buildings, anywhere to make people think. Sarah explains craftivism is as much about inspiring people, or giving them a nudge on an issue, as telling people how to think or act.

When we had all decided what to put on our banners we set to work while chatting. At one point Sarah put two pieces of music on a encouraged us to be silent for a while, and really think about why we were there, what we were doing and who we were doing it for. I must admit I did become distracted after a minute or so by trying to thread my needle which just would not go where it was meant to, but it was a good space to reflect.

For the exhibition Refugees and Asylum Seekers from Cardiff and Newport built a house in the museum which is full of objects and quotes which help tell part of their story from their journey to the UK to asylum

Mini protest banner

Photo by Victoria Stephens @VicStephens

applications and life afterwards. The project was created with Oasis Cardiff, a drop in for refugees and asylum seekers, and Newport Young Asylum Seekers Support Service.

One of the parts of the exhibition that struck me most was something I had not considered before around the issue of shared accommodation: cultural differences. There was a bedroom with two single beds surrounded by quotes from the people who was be inhabiting it. The quotes on the wall were about the occupants’ religious beliefs. One spoke of how the Bible was one of their most important possessions, and the other about their importance, as a Muslim, of regular prayer and how difficult it was not to disturb their room mate while doing this so regularly.

As usual, I made slow progress and am yet to finish my protest banner, however I am determined to do so and am still trying to think of where to put my banner when it is eventually finished, any ideas let me know…

To find out more about the Craftivist Collective go to their website.

To find out more about Oasis go to their website or to NoBordersWelsh Refugee Council or Refugee Week for more information on campaigning and solidarity for asylum seekers and refugees.