Stitching Dreams of Leaving, Dreams of Roots^

2019 - Present

by Nuttaphol Ma

Words contain power. Some choose words to hurt, to demean, to bully, to disrupt, to scare. Some thread them together to create, to hope, to unify, to build, to fight! These two intents came to a clash on 14 Jul 2019 when the president divided the nation with hurtful words targeted towards four congresswomen of color. They were told to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Such xenophobic rhetoric has not only sparked a public outcry in support of the congresswomen but has ruptured past wounds of those who were also told to “go back” at some point in their lives.

I was one of them.

In an age of digital immediacy, when soundbites come and go in a split second, this one lingered, piercing deep inside. How to respond to such bullshit? Some choose to suppress their emotions, some choose humor as an outlet, some speak up. I speak through my artistic voice.

I turned inwards to question the relationship between our flag and the pledge to our flag. What will the social imagination of this relationship look like to create an equal footing for all? What will the flag look like? How will the pledge be worded? I began altering the solid red stripes with red tally marks. In place of the stars, I made markings of the Chinese character 正 (zheng). 正 references tally marks as well and translates to being upright, just, and firm. Accompanying the altered flag, I’ve reconsidered and rewrote the pledge to the flag with a vision of a place with heart, a place with a welcoming sense of belonging. It reads: “I pledge allegiance to our Flag, one open Nation, in compassionate unity, with liberty and justice for all.”

From 2019 to the present, I will move forward with these stitchings at sites of gatherings, sites of arrivals, sites of departures, sites of longing; and in the midst of the covid pandemic, these stitchings take residence at sites of isolation. There’s no end date to when the project comes to an end. When the flag is complete, the project is complete.

Concurrently, I've created a participatory workshop aimed to reflect on how the pledge came to be, to consider the words in detail. The collective performance aspires to unpack these points through a series of facilitated writing and reflection exercises sequenced to guide participants to imagine what their pledge will be to achieve a sense of home for all. I will collect these reconsidered pledges, care for them. With time, I shall carry these words and recite them all at the reflecting pool of the Lincoln Memorial, the base of the Statue of Liberty, and along the shores of Angel Island. During the pandemic, I also created a participatory sculpture that invited folks to pin their reconsidered pledges onto the object.

Ephemera from these actions will be housed in a downloadable book to be gifted back to all participants. Copies will be gifted to the four congresswomen color for giving me the strength to undertake this project. Additionally, documentations from this durational work will take form of an installation at a site yet to be determined.

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Select images from public stitchings from 2019-present.

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Select images from Participatory Workshop: Imagining America Conference 18Oct2019 . University of New Mexico . Albuquerque . NM

Select images from Participatory Sculpture: University of Alaska Anchorage 2021