Organized around the theme of “repair”, Syracuse University’s iSchool and Humanities Center are excited to announce, in conjunction with the Syracuse Symposium, Active Repair: Works from the Social Justice Sewing Academy (SJSA), running from December 12, 2022 – February 17, 2023. 

Barack Obama Mini-Quilt Portrait Series

The iSchool’s Rachel Ivy Clarke sees SJSA as a perfect fit for this year’s symposium because of the way it combines art and activism in an environment carefully designed to create positive social change. She says, “When I think of repair, I immediately think of textiles, like sewing torn seams or darning socks. SJSA shows us that textile arts can repair more than clothing—they can also work toward repairing injustices in our society. The city of Syracuse consistently has some of the highest rates of poverty, segregation, and redlining in the country. Efforts to repair these issues continue to be stalled in legal bureaucracy instead of moving forward toward reparative justice. We need to harness all the ways we can use our voices, talents, and skills to communicate information about these issues, from formal data-driven reports to emotionally resonant art, if we want to have real change.”

SJSA’s founder Sara Trail has been an artist, activist, and entrepreneur since an early age. She first started sewing at four years old, and in her early teens she had already written a nationally published sewing book, was featured in a series of sewing videos, and had designed two of her own textile patterns. After finishing her undergrad at UC Berkeley, and a graduate program in education at Harvard, Trail founded SJSA to get youths involved in art projects that engage and educate their communities. 

Trail concedes that sewing and similar skills are being lost in younger generations. A lot of relevant coursework has been cut from many secondary schools (i.e. Home Ec.), the cost of materials is becoming prohibitive in many cases, and fewer youngsters are exposed to textiles as a legitimate and modern art form. Aside from the expression of art and the opportunity to actively pursue social justice, SJSA workshops also provide the added benefit of learning the skills necessary to sew, mend, darn, and embroider.

“The goal is to create an intentional brave space to give people the opportunity to have their voices heard through textile art. They can talk about issues from Syracuse, to New York as a State, to a critique of America as a whole. What are things that are going well, what are things that are going better, and how can we all participate in being socially active citizens?” Having taken this workshop all around the country, Trail has heard about a wide variety of social issues affecting all kinds of communities. Sometimes they overlap, but sometimes they are local/regional problems. No matter what issues come up, Trail is prepared to tackle them through her thoughtfully constructed exhibits and workshops.

A self-proclaimed “artivist”, Trail explains her professional identity as, “a hybrid of an artist and activist, and educator, and more than that, a forever student. I’m always learning. As much as I go and facilitate conversations, I leave the space learning as much as I bring into the space, because other people’s lived experiences and narratives are so important.” Her approach to educating and her hunger for learning are evident in the way she runs her workshops. Wherever she is working, she leans heavily on the community to deeply explore the issues they are facing. She intentionally creates room for community members to express themselves, and encourages their agency and participation to help lead and guide the scaffolded discussions. After all, they are the experts on their own lives.Please join us as SJSA, Syracuse University, and the greater-Syracuse community explore topics that affect us all. There will be deeply meaningful conversations, opportunities to raise important social issues, and at the end, a commemorative art piece built collaboratively by the community. Come for the art, stay for the activism!