Welcoming Immigrants One Blanket at a Time
by Kimberly Grabiec
The border wall between the U.S. and Mexico is 1,989 miles. This border used to be just another geographical symbol, but it has become the focal point of an increasingly controversial topic involving immigration since the recent election. Immigrants and refugees not only from Mexico, but all around the world, have encountered endless struggles in their journeys. Artist Jayna Zweiman decided to create an art installation known as the “Welcome Blanket” to represent this struggle in light of recent events.
Zweiman is an artist, designer, and political activist who has created a multitude of political art representations. She received her AB from Brown University in Visual Arts and Economics and her Masters in Architecture from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. She currently lives and works in Los Angeles. Her previous work, “Pussyhat Project,” was a popular artistic statement which introduced a specific hat pattern that was inspired by the fight for women’s rights. This hat pattern was sold by Zweiman, but could also be recreated and worn by followers of her activism. Her new project, “Welcome Blanket,” shown at the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago, exemplifies her understanding and beliefs towards recent difficulties in immigration.
Zweiman has succeeded once again in making her installation incredibly interactive, as it involves displaying and distributing blankets made by followers of her political points. Her goal is to receive thousands of blankets made out of 1,989 miles of yarn--the exact distance of the border wall between Mexico and the U.S.--which touches directly on her statement about immigration. Her art installation is not only a political statement, but it is also an act of charity for refugees and immigrants. Every blanket showcased in her installation will be donated to immigrants through resettlement organizations.
The goal of Zweiman’s organization is to get rid of the ideology that the border between Mexico and the U.S. should be an unwelcoming and solid wall. Surprisingly, the“Welcome Blanket” website displays a quote where President Donald Trump says, “I will build a great wall— and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me— and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.” By creating a theoretical wall out of welcome blankets, the border between the U.S. and Mexico can instead be seen as a welcoming place that celebrates immigrants.
The installation at the museum itself is extremely representative of the beliefs behind the project. So far, 1,170 miles of blankets have been donated, fulfilling nearly the entire desired length. These blankets fill the entire room in the exhibit, with some on display but with most folded up into every possible nook and cranny that could be found in the room. There is also a station where visitors can knit sections of the blankets, and another station where people can write their own stories or encouragements regarding immigration. Submitted blanket designs are also shown on the “Welcome Blanket” website, so that people who are not able to visit the museum can still appreciate all of the created patterns from either an artistic or political perspective. Participants who are not able to knit can still feel included by spreading awareness through fliers or by organizing gatherings for people to knit blankets together.
The success of Zweiman’s organization is apparent in viewing the installation. Her ability to include everyone in a targeted topic has resulted in maximum participation, and the message behind it all shows through loud and clear within the welcoming nature of the knit blankets. The show opened in July and runs through Dec. 17. The Smart Museum of Art is located at the University of Chicago, 5550 S. Greenwood Avenue, in Chicago. Admission is free.