The Pussy­hat Founder’s Next Act

Forward Magazine - - Contents - By Amy Oringel Amy Oringel is a free­lance writer based in Bed­ford, New York.

‘My dream is that every fam­ily here is greeted with a Wel­come Blan­ket,’ said Jayna Zweiman.

For Jayna Zweiman, the Pussy­hat Project was al­ways go­ing to be tough to top. With the global women’s march on Jan­uary 21, the ubiq­ui­tous hand-knit pink hat achieved unique cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance and has since been fea­tured on the cover of Time Mag­a­zine, ac­quired by the V&A Mu­seum in Lon­don and adorned the heads of many a celebrity. Hil­lary Clin­ton has con­firmed that she has one.

But for Zweiman, the project’s run­away suc­cess was proof that her work had just started. En­ter Zweiman’s sec­ond act, Wel­come Blan­ket, the sub­ject of a new ex­hibit at the Smart Mu­seum of Art at the Univer­sity of Chicago.

While sim­i­lar to Pussy­hat in its grass­roots ap­proach, Wel­come Blan­ket tack­les a dif­fer­ent is­sue: im­mi­gra­tion. Even as Pres­i­dent Trump was urg­ing us to “build a wall,” the Los An­ge­les-based Zweiman was do­ing a lit­tle math. She cal­cu­lated how many miles of yarn it would take to run along the pro­posed bound­ary be­tween the United States and Mex­ico. Rather than as­so­ci­at­ing the al­most 2,000 miles with a con­crete bar­rier, she felt it could in­stead be used as a guide­line in the cre­ation of soft, warm blan­kets for refugees start­ing anew in this coun­try. The Wel­come Blan­ket is both a sym­bol of protest, as well as a prac­ti­cal ne­ces­sity for those who ar­rive here with few pos­ses­sions.

“Af­ter the travel ban was pro­posed, I kept think­ing about im­mi­grants at the air­port,” Zweiman said. “When my grand­par­ents ar­rived in the United States, they were greeted by the Statue of Lib­erty. It was a joy­ful mo­ment. But to­day’s refugees land at LAX. No one is there to help or wel­come them. It’s im­por­tant that th­ese peo­ple know that they are wanted and that they are part of the fab­ric of our so­ci­ety.”

Zweiman and her team cre­ated a pat­tern, then reached out over so­cial me­dia to the Pussy­hat net­work of thou­sands of ded­i­cated knit­ters, quil­ters and cro­cheters. They were in­structed to come up with a 40x40 inch blan­ket along with a note of wel­come that in­cludes the knit­ter’s own fam­ily im­mi­gra­tion story. Th­ese were then sent to the Smart Mu­seum where they are be­ing cat­a­logued and ex­hib­ited un­til De­cem­ber 17. Af­ter the ex­hibit closes, the blan­kets will be dis­trib­uted to im­mi­grants through part­ner re­set­tle­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Beyond the blan­kets them­selves that are rapidly fill­ing the stark white mu­seum walls with var­i­ous blasts of color and zany pat­terns, the Project is de­signed as a means to en­cour­age di­a­logue. Pro­gram­ming and con­ver­sa­tions on hu­man rights are hap­pen­ing this fall. Lo­cal Chicagoans have even been drop­ping by the mu­seum to con­trib­ute. There are vir­tual ver­sions of the ex­hibit on In­sta­gram, Twit­ter and Face­Book.

“My dream is that every fam­ily ar­riv­ing here is greeted with a Wel­come Blan­ket,” Zweiman says. “Our coun­try is based on ideals to cre­ate a more per­fect union. So many peo­ple are giv­ing what­ever they can to try and achieve that. I can give this.”

A WARM WEL­COME: Th­ese blan­kets will be dis­trib­uted to im­mi­grants.

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