A community based art project managed by Felice Salmon, Stitching Unlearn Fear + Hate sought to bring the traditional art form of embroidery alongside the women of the immigrant and refugee community to raise awareness around their stories and empower their creative voices to promote change.
Kentucky has welcomed over 15,000 refugees since 1990. In Lexington alone, 153 languages are spoken—from Arabic, Bulgarian and Farsi to Spanish, Nepali, French and Japanese. Women of the immigrant and refugee communities have worked tirelessly to make the Bluegrass home and yet their voices are not always heard. They contribute to the beauty, stability, and economic systems of our commonwealth, but many citizens cannot visualize their impact. It remains uncertain whether future policies and perspectives toward immigrants will protect this community.
In response to this and other patterns of hate emerging from American culture, Kurt Gohde & Kremena Todorova have centered their work of the last two years on the phrase “Unlearn Fear + Hate.” This phrase, from a poem they commissioned from Frank X Walker called Love Letta to de Worl’, illuminates the need for art to meet activism in response to the crisis befalling immigrant and refugee women—“We can’t pass the course on humanity if we keep failing the lessons on harmony and until we unlearn fear and hate.”
In the fall of 2016, Robyn Wade, Felice Salmon, and other local stitchers came together with Kurt, Kremena, and a number of Transylvania University students to begin stitching the words ‘Unlearn Fear + Hate’ as a way of depicting their desire in solidarity with marginalized communities.
Then, in 2017, Felice, Robyn, Kurt, & Kremena began to bring the traditional art form of embroidery alongside the women of the immigrant and refugee community to raise awareness around their stories and empower their creative voices to promote change.
By 2018, they had a collection of 50 embroidered samplers in 30 languages spoken in Lexington. In March of 2018, pieces were assembled into a larger work that was displayed in Lexington Public Library’s Beaumont Branch as a way of unifying beauty and the message of welcome rooted in Unlearn Fear + Hate.
An additional stitching party was held on the campus of The University of Kentucky in the tradition of a quilting bee. In an attempt to embroider the remaining 123 languages spoken in Fayette County into sampler form, students were given translations to stitch in their own handwriting. It is our hope that these stitching gatherings will knit people together around the commonality of art and activism.
Funded by The NEA and in collaboration with Kurt Gohde, Kremena Todorova, Robyn Wade, & stitchers from the Lexington International community. Portraits by Kurt Gohde & Kremena Todorova.