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Hope Quilt on display through December
Some of the Hope Quilt squares are pictured at the Ketchikan Wellness Coalition conference room. Photo by Hall Anderson

Daily News Staff Writer

The Hope Quilt that has inspired healing throughout Alaska for the past three years almost didn't exist. It got its start in 2014, when Ketchikan artist Carmel Anderson's art show “Unheard Voices|Unheard Wisdom,” which focuses on lifting up domestic violence and sexual assault victims, debuted in the First City.  

On the morning of the show's opening, the person that was going to help Anderson with a wall of the exhibit wasn't available. Anderson was left with a bare wall and only a few hours to fill it. Then she thought about a conversation she had with Alaska leaders on domestic violence, who said Anderson's work is great — but people walk away overwhelmed and they don't know what to do with themselves.

“As I looked at that blank wall,” Anderson said, “I thought of that comment. They need hope.”

That was the beginning of the Hope Quilt, which will be on display in Ketchikan in December from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. It will be in the Ketchikan Wellness Coalition conference room located at 602 Dock St.

The Hope Quilt is different from what a person might think it is, in that it's not a literal quilt. There are no woven squares of cloth sewn together, but rather dozens of different sized primed canvas squares attached together with miniature white safety pins. On the squares are bold statements and stories written in mostly black ink by Alaskans who have been affected by domestic violence or sexual assault.

“It's a hard topic — it's a hard topic for victims to admit it happens by someone they love and care for, and maybe father children with,” Anderson explained. “It's (also) hard for people to receive. That's one of the things for the perpetrator, really all they ask from us is silence. For the victim, what they ask for is us to hear their story and stand in some of their pain. That's a lot harder than just staying silent.”

Those contributing squares include men and sons who watched as their mothers were abused, young boys and girls, granddaughters and others. Anderson said there are two groups of people affected by the quilt, the first being those who contributed a square.

Anderson explained the Hope Quilt's contributors are able to feel empowered by having their voices heard and believed, because that's what they need. She said it's a piece that has a lot of sorrow in it — but also joy and hope.

“When I was in one location,” she added, “I heard the most traumatic abuse stories I've ever heard. Just horrific. We were looking at the Hope Quilt, and I said, 'What's your favorite?' One of the women said a square and read it. Another woman from the group, in a voice that I will never forget — in astonishment, and pride and disbelief — she said, 'That's my square.' So to feel like she spoke to another woman, and helped another woman in her healing, is incredibly powerful.”

The second group of people affected by the quilt are people who have been fortunate enough to not go through domestic violence and sexual assault, but they're people who care about those that have.

Anderson noted the Hope Quilt is a community piece, filled with thoughts of neighbors, friends and family members. She said it's hard to live in small isolated communities, where women and men can run into perpetrators by simply stopping at the grocery store.

“When people read (the Hope Quilt), it's not like a textbook — it's not like somebody from the East Coast or a different country,” she said. “They know they're reading voices from fellow Alaskans.”

Although not a piece of art by Anderson, her exhibit “Unheard Voices|Unheard Wisdom” created a space where it was okay to talk about assault experiences and let the men and women going through it know that they're not alone — especially in Alaska.

According to a report from the Justice Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage, at least 50 percent of women in Alaska are affected by domestic violence or sexual assault. Information from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence states that 59 percent of adult women in Alaska experience intimate partner or sexual violence in their lifetimes.

Additionally, the data from NCADV shows that Alaska has the highest homicide rate for female victims killed by a male perpetrator in the nation, and more than three out of every four American Indian and Alaska Native women are physically assaulted during their lifetimes.

“That's my challenge to Ketchikan — to see if we can be that light in Alaska, to say: What are they doing different in Ketchikan? They're doing something,” Anderson said.

However, the problem does not only exist in The Last Frontier. Anderson said viewers of the Hope Quilt have been receiving it well, and the public is more open to seeing social justice artwork — and victims are more willing to talk about it.

Anderson credits this in part to the #MeToo campaign, which Time Magazine just announced was named its 2017 Person of the Year. She said there's been a cultural shift in the openness of talking about sexual assault.

National Public Radio states the #MeToo hashtag rose to prominence as a “social media campaign in the wake of high-profile accusations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.”

On its cover, the magazine called the five women featured “The Silence Breakers,” and includes celebrities Taylor Swift and Ashley Judd. According to TIME, they're meant to represent the hundreds of victims who have come forward about their sexual assault across the country.

Also on the right side of the magazine cover is an arm, cropped at the shoulder. Information from TIME Magazine states the arm belongs to an anonymous young hospital worker from Texas — “a sexual harassment victim who fears that disclosing her identify would negatively impact her family.”

The woman is faceless on the cover and remains nameless, TIME states, but her appearance is an act of solidarity, “representing all those who are not yet able to come forward and reveal their identities.”

Anderson noted that many people assume it's just lower income people dealing with sexual and domestic violence. However, there are just as many cases in higher socioeconomic brackets — as some of “The Silence Breakers” have shown.

Anderson explained the same goes for the Hope Quilt — it's women and men from all walks of life.

The Hope Quilt is helping those anonymous — and some not anonymous — victims and people across Alaska affected by sexual assault and domestic violence heal. The quilt has been displayed in Juneau, Anchorage, Sitka, Barrow, Bethel and Dillingham, and Anderson is still accepting squares for it.

Anderson said the quilt will continue to grow, and it has no end. One small square on the Hope Quilt can attest to that.

“This is your middle,” the anonymous message states, seeming to offer hope to those looking to get out of a bad situation. “Never end.”