Murder Quilt a Stark Reminder of 2013 Victims: 'It's So Easy to Ignore'

By Erica Demarest on April 11, 2014 1:51pm 

LOGAN SQUARE — For Monica Fuentes, who's new to embroidery, stitching each full name felt like an accomplishment — until she remembered why she was sewing.

"I'd stop and touch the writing," said Fuentes, who works in a civil rights law firm. "It just made it so much more painful. The names have deeper meaning."

Fuentes is one of 14 women who worked on "Untitled (Homicide Quilt)," debuting at Saturday's Craft/Work exhibit in Logan Square. The patchwork quilt, shaped like a map of Chicago, honors the city's 2013 homicide victims.

Each victim's name is hand-stitched in the neighborhood where he or she was killed. Some neighborhoods are bare. In others — particularly on the South and West Sides — there are so many names sewn over each other that it's impossible to read each one. According to police, 415 people were killed in the city last year.

"We went back and forth about what form we wanted [this quilt] to take for a long time," said Rachel Wallis, who helped sew the quilt and co-founded Craft/Work.

"A map was intimate because each name would be put in individually, but is also gave a sense of scope and inequity."

The women who worked on the quilt — who ranged in age from their 20s to 60s — said they wanted to create a social justice piece.

"As a city, we talk about [homicides] so much, but then we also don't, not really," Wallis said. "We hope this will be a starting point for conversations, rather then about the end product."

Thelma Uranga, who works with youth at Pilsen's Elevarte studio, said she sees too many teens losing friends.

"I already hear from them about so-and-so being killed or shot," said Uranga, who stitched several patches. "It's a surprising number for somebody so young, a teenager, to be experiencing."

The quilters said they were expecting to see homicides clustered on the South and West Sides, but were still taken aback by some neighborhoods.

 South and West Side artists hand-stitched the names of each 2013 homicide victim.
South and West Side artists hand-stitched the names of each 2013 homicide victim.
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"I thought there would be more [than six homicides] on the Lower West Side," said Fuentes, noting that she lives in Pilsen and hears gunshots all the time. "It's sad. Why would I expect to see more? It's unfortunate that I would even have that mentality."

Wallis said she had the opposite reaction with South Shore, which tallied 27 murders in 2013.

"When I think of South Shore, I think of the South Shore Cultural Center," Wallis said. "I think of it as a pretty stable, middle-class, working-class neighborhood. And I was really shocked."

It was exactly those misconceptions that led the women to make the quilt, Wallis said.

"It's so easy, depending on what neighborhood you live in, to ignore what's going on.

"Weirdly, the hardest thing for me has been printing out all the names and dates [to distribute to participants]," she said. "It's 63 pages of spreadsheets. It just weighs on you to see page after page after page after page ..."

The quilt's creators come from all walks of life — one is an accountant, another works in fundraising. Some had never sewn before, and still others are active members of Pilsen's El Stitch y Bitch group.

"Untitled (Homicide Quilt)" can be seen at at the Craft/Work exhibit in Beauty and Brawn, 3501 W. Fullerton Ave. The opening reception is Saturday, 6-10 p.m. The show runs through May.

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