A series of protest banners are on display in Charlottetown as part of the Art in the Open festival.
The banners come from the work of Chicago-based artist Aram Han Sifuentes, who started making the textile banners in response to the election of Donald Trump in 2016.
Since then, the collection of banners has grown, and Sifuentes launched the Protest Banner Lending Library in Chicago.
"I started by myself, and then I invited my friends, family, close people to me to make [them] with me… I was making these banners predominantly with non-citizen immigrants," said Sifuentes.
"Those who … are undocumented or come here on visas like that, their situation is precarious ... so it sort of became clear that not many of us felt comfortable going out there to protest."
Banners were then made to give to others and the library stock was born.
The lending libraries have since launched in other communities, including Toronto.
Bringing banners to P.E.I.
Art in the Open decided it wanted to bring Sifuentes's work to P.E.I. in May, before the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died during an arrest in Minnesota. It sparked a series of ongoing anti-Black racism protests and demonstrations around the world.
Festival organizers agree the topic is now more relevant than ever.
"I'm really interested in thinking about what rural activism looks like right now," said Art in the Open co-curator Amanda Shore. "This has been a really special project for Islanders to sort of self define what advocacy means for them."
Shore said she was inspired by the rich textile history of the East Coast, which includes craft-based traditions like sewing circles and quilting.
"Usually these kinds of sewing circles are so, like, intimate and special, so we wanted to have a small gathering."
Art in the Open hosted a virtual workshop with Sifuentes on Thursday night. Kits were distributed in advance and participants called in on Zoom to discuss the process and social justice issues with the artist.
Sifuentes, who also teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, typically hosts the workshops in person, but that has changed due to COVID-19.
"Even though things are happening virtually, like, there's so much happening in the world right now that the need for the protest banners is so great," she said. "There is that energy."
Shore said the group discussed local issues to P.E.I., like the history of abortion activism on the Island and more recent topics like Indigenous fishing rights.
Hannah Morgan works with non-profit, artist-run organizations as an administrator and curator and was one of the participants in the workshop. She said she wanted to make her banner about something relevant to the Island.
"My slogan was Protect Epekwitk Indigeneity, so P-E-I ... acknowledging the Indigenous peoples that were here before it was known as Prince Edward Island," she said.
"To really come together as a community and discuss these issues is where the change really happens. I think a lot of the times we forget that these issues aren't necessarily political. They're actually a human rights issue."
'Slogans and the words respond to a moment'
Sifuentes said she sees different slogans wherever she does the workshop.
"They become sort of site-responsive or site-specific in that sort of way, right, because the banners that get made here in Chicago in this very moment are going to look very different from the banners that get made over there," she said of P.E.I.
"I definitely think that the slogans and the words respond to a moment, respond to a place, respond to, you know, the communities and the people making them in that very moment."
Workshop participants were given the option to keep their banners for their own use, start a local library or donate their banners back to the original Chicago-based library when the banners on loan make the journey home.
"The artist said that she wanted us to make banners that were functional that we would use. That's the point," Shore said.
"They're not meant to just sort of like hang on a wall. They're meant to be activated in spaces."
Morgan said she does a lot of work with Indigenous communities and plans to donate her banner to the Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I.
"To support one another in protest ... in talking back to power and critiquing our government and demanding for certain basic rights and security, I think like that does resonate for a lot of places," Sifuentes said.
"I find a lot of joy in that."
The banners — both those made on Thursday and from the Chicago Protest Banner Lending Library — are on display as part of Art in the Open until midnight Saturday.
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