“Say Sew” is a giant interactive collection of fabric illustrations that weaves the immigration stories of 24 individuals from different countries who have found their homes in the United States. This piece integrates the timeless art of sewing with modern storytelling, offering a unique and emotional experience for audiences of all backgrounds. The stories describe how these people, their families, or their ancestors ended up living in the United States. I learned them from Newest Americans and illustrated three frames of each story using fabrics, totaling 72 frames. I combined all the pieces in the form of a large quilt. The audience can touch each piece to hear the voices of immigrants narrating their stories. The fabric illustrations serve as a canvas for the voices of immigrants sharing their joys, struggles, aspirations, and contributions to society.
“Say Sew” is a platform dedicated to make the voices of underrepresented immigrants in the United States heard. It seeks to foster understanding and create a sense of belonging for all, regardless of their background or origin. By integrating art and cutting-edge technology, this interactive experience encourages audiences to honor multiculturalism, celebrate diversity, embrace inclusion, and cultivate empathy. I have picked textile as the primary material for my piece because the fabric has a rich history of representing the concept of home, a dream home that provides immigrants with peace, freedom, and wellbeing. I also added interactivity component to this work to more profoundly engage audiences with the work and the stories.
• Grant In Aid, Department of Art & Design, University of Minnesota Duluth, $9497, 2022
• The Arrowhead Regional Arts Council, Individual Artist Category, Duluth, MN, $4000, 2023
• Duluth Fiber Guild, Duluth, MN, Unites States, 2023
• Current New Media 2021, International interactive and video art festival, Santa Fe, New Mexico, United States, 2022
• Exploration category, the World Illustration Awards, London, United Kingdom, 2021
In July 2021, I met two well-known photojournalists, Ed Kashi and Julie Winokur, who founded the “Newest Americans.” This nonprofit foundation, based in New Jersey, is made up of journalists, media-makers, artists, faculty, and students that produce multimedia stories, gallery and museum exhibits, educational curriculum, interactive experiences, and public history programming about immigration. After we realized that we followed the same art direction, we decided to do a collaborative art project about immigration. Kashi and Winokur shared with me a collection of audio and written stories that they had recorded from different people narrating how they ended up living in the United States. Those amazing stories inspired me to visualize them via interactive textile illustrations.
After listening to all stories, I brainstormed and roughly sketched the most impressive part of each story. Then, I dyed the cotton fabrics with natural pigments and acrylics, allowing me the flexibility and freedom to have my own colors and textures. After that, I quilted and embroidered each story on a 12×12″ piece of fabric. After finishing all 72 pieces, I stitched them to make a large, quilted blanket. Finally, using conductive threads, I connected touch-sensitive microcontroller boards to different parts of the blankets. They added interactivity to the blanket, so audiences could hear the immigrants’ stories when they touched it.
My mother and I spend time together studying traditions and learning our history.
— Paige Bethmann
My daughter and I came from British Guiana for freedom.
— Stephanie Khoury
My father jumped ship in New York Harbor in his late twenties.
— Colvin Lom
I was born in Mexico City, and for whatever reason, my mother didn’t want me or any children. I was adopted at birth by a Jewish couple from New York.
— Steven Klein
I want to stay in New York because despite the MTA, the rats, the cockroaches, and the rent, it is the city that gave me the most confidence.
— Laura Calcada
The audiences watch the illustrations and listen to the stories at Current New Media Festival.