According to Wikipedia, a totem is a �spirit being, sacred object, or symbol that serves as an emblem of a group of people, such as a family, clan, lineage, or tribe.�
For artist and activist Cindy Weil, totems are great tools to tell a story. Weil created the Immigrant Yarn Project (IYP) in 2017, a group of artists who use fibers to create large-scale public totems. To make the totems, the artists use yarn, pompoms, blankets and other textiles collected from people who immigrated to the US from all over the world.
As a child of immigrants, the project is personal for Weil. She wanted to show the beauty and diversity of different cultures, and also to highlight the many contributions that immigrants have made to the nation. Weir also notes that many cultures use fiber to tell stories of their heritage that are passed along from generation to generation.
�A relative might pass down the knowledge of fiber techniques learned in their country of origin, bringing that knowledge with them to the U.S. when they immigrated and passing it down like a family recipe,� Weil said. �This made woven fiber a meaningful medium for IYP.�
Last spring, Weil partnered with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and National Parks Conservancy in San Francisco, CA to display a collection of the totems, each one telling a personal immigration story. The totems were made of knitted and crocheted pieces that were contributed by over 600 fabric artists from across the country. The pieces were carefully assembled using distinct patterns, colors, flags, designs and symbols to illustrate family, heritage and the journeys that families took to get to America.
The exhibit at the Fort Point National Historic Site looked like a forest of columns that people could walk around and through, with bright colors and textures grabbing the viewer�s attention at every turn. The exhibition included a table with names listing the nearly 700 contributors to the project and the countries they represented.
After the success of her first show, Weir decided that the best use for the project was to actually help immigrants who are in crisis. So, instead of taking the project to other museums, she�s auctioning off the totems to raise money for organizations that are helping immigrants who are trapped in detention centers at the border or being forced to wait in Mexico for immigration hearings.
All of the totems that are available for purchase are listed on the IYP website, which you can view here.
We think it�s awesome that the Immigrant Yarn Project is helping others in need. Have you come across artists in your community that are making a difference? If so, sign up and sign in to tell the world about it. Let’s #StartSomethingGood together.
(images c/o Immigrant Yarn Project)