The Refugee crisis is a pressing issue in the world today. The estimated and documented number of refugees across the globe stood at 25 million in 2019. Jennifer Kim Sohn initiated the project 25 Million Stitches: One Stitch, One Refugee. The artist herself left her homeland in Korea to settle in the US, is an effort to bring together the global community in remembering individuals who have been forcibly displaced from their homeland due to war, climate crisis, state policies, and several other reasons.
The artist first began the project as her solo endeavor. She worked nine-hour long shifts for three days, after which her sewing machine broke down. That is when she realized that this project demanded more than individual participation. Hence, she decided to open it to community participation in an effort to fulfill the desired number of stitches. Operating the project on a global level was definitely a challenge and it required patience and hard work to collect all the responses and bring those together to form a single installation.
Methods of Community Participation/Engagement
Each participant was required to do one stitch, which led to 25 million hand-sewn stitches. The traditional methods of stitching as a mode of art attracted a huge group of people because they could instantly relate to it. The participants were free to choose any pattern and color they wanted to use to express themselves completely. Some participants even chose to stitch in such a way that their stitches seemed hidden, referring to the undocumented refugees around the globe. Participants from all over the globe sent in their entries. Every participant’s response was put together in the form of a huge display. The tapestries were arranged into 14-foot sections which were suspended from the ceiling to the floor. As the audience/viewers walked past these panels, the movement made these panels rustle, thereby creating a further sense of solidarity and being present together at the same place through a very tangible piece of narrative about the struggles and pains of millions of people.
These panels consisted of diverse expressions which portrayed the unique ways in which everyone perceived the refugee crisis and chose to stand in solidarity with this crisis. This became a form of artistic expression of activism that followed non-violent and creative methods of expressing a stance against the forced homelessness of such a huge number of individuals.
The project has been installed in several museums across the globe, including in places like Australia, and Minnesota among others. The most recent installation was at Verge Centre for the Arts in Sacramento, Califormia.
The participants involved refugees and displaced people from all over the world. Aslyum-seekers, climate refugees, and other migrant, diasporic, and displaced individuals came together to participate in this project. There was no specific age limit because people in the age group of five to ninety-one participated effectively. People from all sorts of professions like doctors, librarians, students, etc. came together to be a part of this project. The participants were spread all across the world including individuals from as many as thirty-six countries and all states of the USA. Besides, the participants also involved individuals who are not refugees themselves but are staunch believers in safeguarding the well-being of displaced people. The number of participants reached over fifty thousand within the span of just a few months.
The project was initiated in the year 2019 and was fully developed within the span of the next year.
Despite all odds, the project succeeded in bringing together the global community to ponder and talk about an ongoing crisis. Highlighting the ethics of empathy, goodwill, companionship, and fellow feeling. This community art project is a reminder of the human tendency to extend support to fellow humans who are living in dire conditions. At a time when news headlines are flooded with news on borders closing down and refugee people rendered homeless and helpless, this art project is a source of silent activism that spreads the message that the world community believes in love, friendship, and camaraderie.
Copyright/Courtesy: The copyright to all images lie with the 25 million stitches website.
Image courtesy: Instagram
Case Study researched by :
Monami Chatterjee (TDLM Research Intern, 2023)
[English Literature; Calcutte University; Writing/Poetry]