Human Rights To Come Alive Through “Advocacy Quilts” At Kean University

UNION — Massacre survivors in Bosnia, waste-pickers from India, and survivors of sexual violence in the Congo are among 281 artists who will tell their story through quilting at a unique exhibition at Kean University’s Human Rights Institute Gallery, located at 1000 Morris Ave. in Union. “Advocacy Quilts: A Voice for the Voiceless” will run from Jan. 28 through May 10. A reception will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 30, from 5 to 8 p.m.

The Advocacy Project (AP), a Washington-based, non-profit organization that works with community-based organizations around the world, is loaning 20 quilts to Kean University. As part of its support for partners, AP helps members to tell their story through embroidered or painted panels, which are then assembled by expert quilters in the US and used to publicize their campaigns.

“Quilting is becoming more and more accepted as a tool of human rights advocacy, and Kean’s involvement will really help to spread the word. We are delighted to be working with such a prestigious university,” said Iain Guest, executive director of AP.

AP’s quilting initiative started in 2007, when survivors from the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia produced a tapestry bearing the names of relatives who died in the massacre. AP exhibited the tapestry in the U.S. among the Bosnian Diaspora, and introduced the model to other AP partners. The following year, it was embraced by survivors from the infamous Rio Negro massacre in Guatemala. The Advocacy Project showed some of the quilts at the United Nations last year, but this will be the first time the entire collection has been shown in public.

Seventeen different organizations are contributing quilts to the Kean exhibition. They include five Roma communities in Eastern Europe; children who have been freed from child labor in Nepal; women from Nepal who suffer from the condition of uterine prolapse; Mayan Indians from a threatened wildlife reserve in Belize; individuals with disabilities from northern Uganda; Maasai widows and girls from Kenya; waste-pickers from Delhi; and carpet weavers from the Atlas mountains of Morocco. One quilt is made from recycled straws by women in a Ugandan slum to publicize the threat to their environment.

Each quilt presents a rich and varied portrait of the challenges that face the artists, many of whom are living in exceptionally difficult conditions. Quilting offers them a rare opportunity for expression as well as a chance to work together with other women, which can be extremely therapeutic.

Several Peace Fellows, graduate students who volunteered abroad under AP‘s fellowship program, will attend the opening along with some of the American quilters who helped to assemble quilts. Many of the quilters have said that working on the quilts has opened their eyes to some of the problems that face human rights advocates in the south. AP staff and fellows will be available to meet with students throughout the duration of the exhibition.

Human Rights Institute Gallery Hours:

  • Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays – Noon to 7 p.m.
  • Wednesdays & Fridays – Noon to 4 p.m.

For more information, visit For more information about The Advocacy Project, visit

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