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The Protest Banner Lending Library: How One Artist Is Helping Marginalised Voices Make A Difference

With the Metropolitan police recently banning Extinction Rebellion protests throughout London, the civil right to protest is at the forefront of many people’s minds. Protest and art have long been intertwined, and at the level of the average citizen, art is a powerful tool for creating protest banners designed to convey an important political message. For some, the active participation in a protest is the most important element; for others, art is the most powerful tool they have to deliver the message. One such artist is Aram Han Sifuentes, whose most recent endeavour, The Protest Banner Lending Library, invites people who are unable to attend demonstrations to donate their banners for other people to borrow.

The Protest Banner Lending Library
As well as functioning as a banner library service, The Protest Banner Lending Library, based in Chicago, is set up to coach and enable people to make their own banners. Sifuentes promotes the use of textile banners, noting their history in political demonstration and protest, particularly in the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Banners made out of textiles are more transportable and durable than paper banners, which is important because of the frequency of protests in America’s current political climate. By crafting the banners out of fusible web, Sifuentes ensures that they can be reused multiple times.

Since the start of the project, more than 500 banners have been crafted on site, and the library currently contains over 125 banners for lending. In addition to the banners made in the workshops, homemade banners from across America have been donated to the library, and many of the banners have already been on multiple protests. With its ethos of reuse and durability, The Protest Banner Lending Library fits well with concerns about the environment: even when banners are used at a rally indirectly related to climate change, the message of sustainability is strong.

Sharing Skills
The artist runs workshops in the library, in which skills are shared in a communal sewing space. This ensures that beginners are able to make themselves heard and learn about the basis of sewing and the varying uses of sewing machines. Understanding the equipment and learning the skills needed to produce protest banners gives a platform to those who must fight to get their voices heard. The banners produced in the workshops are then placed in the library for demonstrators to check out and use in protests. Sifuentes notes that this process means that the banners carry their stories with them: they “carry the histories of the hands that made and hold them, and the places they have and will travel.”

The Artist Behind The Project
Aram Han Sifuentes uses craft and needlework to explore the themes of immigration and citizenship. She moved to the US from South Korea as a child, and was taught to sew by her seamstress mother. Sifuentes now uses these skills to examine immigrant histories, engaging with her audiences through community projects. Dedicated to giving a voice to marginalised individuals, Sifuentes began creating protest banners from textiles when she became a mother herself, and felt unsafe at protests. Teaching the skills to make the banners and facilitating the library allows her to reach those who must fight to be heard in the current political climate, making her presence felt at protests she is unable to attend in person.

The right to protest is a civil liberty, but people from marginalised communities do not always feel safe at demonstrations, or have the skills needed to create their own banners. By using her art as a political tool, Aram Han Sifuentes defends the right to protest, and allows every voice to be heard.

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