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No Means No in any language

Some of the most powerful and impactful messages about sexual violence are the result of visually creative and artistic responses to the issue.

Collette Howie is a Quilter who has been involved for the past two years in the creation of a collaborative quilt through the Instagram quilting community. Responding to the widespread publicity surrounding the gang rape of a young woman in Delhi in 2012, and the rape culture evident in Roosh V and similar stories, Collette and her creative collaborators decided to raise awareness of and to protest sexual violence globally through a quilting project which they hope will highlight consent and rape culture in a new and arresting way. Collette describes the development of the project below:

“No means No in Any language” is a group quilt made by quilters from the world of Instagram. Quilting as an art form has a rich history of making social statements. I had many thoughts on the creation of this quilt, and had always wanted to use my quilting to help draw attention to political and social issues as well as to provoke and engage the viewer into having to think about what a quilt is actually saying to them.

So in 2016 I put a call out on Instagram asking for volunteers to make a quilt block saying the word “No” in their native language, or the language of the country in which they were resident. I made the first block and then received over 40 blocks in the many languages of our world. From Arabic, to Persian, Indonesian, Japanese, Scots, Chinese script and even American Sign Language, the blocks came in from amazing quilters united by the wonders of Instagram! All of the contributors are listed on the reverse of the quilt, together with a statement explaining why it was made.

The quotes on the border of the quilt were collated from a list gathered from Instagram quilters. Some quotes are ways in which we can say no to sexual advances without actually saying ‘no’. For example, “I’m too tired”, “Let’s just watch the film”. Saying an outright “no” is not always easy but the quotes on the quilt all still mean the same thing. Some are verbal and others are non-verbal body language. For example, when someone is really drunk or drugged there’s clearly no consent.

The word “no” has been used in this quilt as a response to many of the issues surrounding sexual violence against women and men. It can mean a “no” against attempted rape or unwanted sexual advances towards anyone, thus addressing sexual consent issues. We are saying that ‘No means no’ in any language - we are saying a collective NO to a pervasive rape culture and its reinforcements, especially through the media.

“Rape culture doesn’t so much actively encourage rape as passively condone it. You can’t pin it down to one particular thing; rather it’s the accumulation of a number of social norms that perpetuate the idea that women are sexual objects, and that sexual objectification is simply a fact of life.” Arwa Mahdawi , The Guardian. October 15 2016.

The concept of each “no” being in a different language addresses the issue that sexual violence towards anyone is a global problem: that in any culture, country or language, rape is the same thing. When it began I was specifically thinking of the horrific gang rape in 2012 in Delhi that resulted in the death of the victim.

This quilt is a contribution to the discussion and a way of hopefully showing that Quilters have something to say about these issues and can use their art form to do so in a new way.

In August 2017 I exhibited the quilt at the Festival Of Quilts at the Birmingham NEC, as a group quilt with the hope of engaging and provoking thought amongst the many thousands of visitors.

“No means No in Any language” will be featured in a Rape Crisis Scotland exhibition during the 16 Days of Action to end Violence Against Women in 2018.

If you’d like to see more images of this project as it developed in the meantime, please check out #thenoquilt on Instagram.

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