Monday, May 2, 2011

The Knitting Vigil by Laura Isaac

Editor's Note: I was writing a post about responses to the prompt to show support for Ai Weiwei by using sunflower seeds. That post is still coming, but when I saw Laura Isaac's powerful new avatar on Twitter depicting her Knitting Vigil, I knew that I had to find out more. I asked Laura for an image and some information and decided that her email warranted being posted in full.

-Joanie Gagnon San Chirico

From Laura Isaac:

"I have always enjoyed Ai Weiwei's work and his Sunflower Seeds (2010) had quickly become one of my favorite works of all time. It's such a powerful and touching statement about individuality and mass consumer culture. I remember watching his interviews and sessions at the Tate during last October and really being afraid for him when he returned home to China. I have met many people who were "detained" by the Chinese government; they were lucky to survive. With Ai's arrest we have the opportunity to get a massive protest going because he is so well known internationally. The trick is to not lose focus and not let up. The Chinese government is good at playing the waiting game and they're hoping we'll forget. We can't forget about Ai, his associates, or the countless others who have "disappeared".

I was really moved when I saw the first Sunflower Seeds Hour Count photo on Twitter. I thought it was a such a beautiful way to peacefully protest. I wanted to participate, but I wanted to mark the hours he's lost in a different way. I wanted to spend time with each sunflower seed. I decided to write a knitting chart. (I've never written one before, since I only started knitting in February for another project.) I stayed up one night, charted out the sunflower seed, and the next afternoon I taught myself to knit the image from YouTube videos.

I decided to post the pattern for free on Ravelry for anyone else who would like to join my knitting vigil. As of this post, the pattern has been downloaded 45 times and there are 23 members of the Ravelry Knitting Vigil Group and more from my website. Members of the group have decided to knit the pattern on squares and send them to Chinese embassies. Others have proposed knitting the sunflower seeds while pacing outside of the embassies. (You have to knit and walk at the same time since it is illegal to "obstruct the flow of traffic" on the sidewalk.) Another member is going to knit it on little cushions and give them to her friends as a way of spreading awareness. I think these are all beautiful ideas. Sending in a knitted protest is powerful. It says, "I have taken a lot of time to tell you that I think what is happening is wrong", but it's also soft and comforting. It's about as non-violent as a protest can get. I would love to see some group "yarn bomb" a public place with sunflower seed squares, and maybe include a "Release Ai Weiwei" sticker.

Meanwhile, knitting a little more on my sunflower seeds each day helps me cope with the idea that the world is not a safe place, that there are people I can't protect, and that time is precious. I sincerely hope that Ai Weiwei and his associates will be released safely very soon, and that they will be able to see how so many people across the globe have made sure that they didn't completely "disappear".

Here is the link to the pattern on Ravelry for free download:

Here is the link to the Ravelry Knitting Vigil Group where we'll be posting pictures of our projects and sharing news about aiww: "

Laura Isaaac's website is:

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