Bianca Mercado is a young artivist who is driven to help bring voice and healing to other young people by highlighting and creating art illustrating social justice issues of the past and present. She is in her first year at Salem State University where she majors in Community Education and Public Policy.
Photos from a Workshop Bianca FACILITATED this summer with Sisters Unchained, a resource program for young women , with formerly or currently incarcerated parents.
Activist ABC’s was designed and created over the summer after being inspired by an SJSA workshop in Cambridge. In the process of designing, the goal was to have each letter of the alphabet represented in an illustratable way that related to social justice. The question of how to represent concepts of social justice were constantly negotiated: for example, “R” was initially going to stand for racism, but in the process of designing the actual block I had to question what racism looks like? Using past experiences as a person of color and paying close attention to the redlining in my own community, I attempted to understand how racism might be represented visually and clearly. Ultimately, I had to come to terms with the reality that some things cannot be seen or felt and the enormous task of adequately representing racism’s complexity was too large for one block. In the end the “R” block illustrated Rosa Parks and the bus boycotts that stood in direct resistance to the racist and unfair systems of oppression and disadvantage. The same process went for other ideas that I ultimately retired such as “Access to Free Healthcare”, “Equity”, “Justice” and “Gun Control”.
Upon completing the quilt and reflecting on the process, two incredible learnings rose to the surface. First, being unable to put a theoretical face to systems of oppression such as xenophobia, and mass incarceration, allowed me to recognize activists and ideas that perhaps would not have been otherwise acknowledged. This created space to highlight 13 year-old Zulaikha Patel who led a protest against her school system in response to their ban of natural hair in South Africa; colorism, the discrimination of those with darker skin tones; and the 4 year long, almost forgotten water crisis of Flint, Michigan. Allowing these ideas to be seen rather than more mainstream concepts, gives a chance for the viewer to learn about people and concepts that are not as well-known or do not have persistent media coverage. The second realization I had after completing the Activist ABC’s was that I’m incredibly appreciative of SJSA and the SJSA volunteers with whom the quilt would not have been made possible without. From the amazing fabric that was sent to me to the collaborative work with each embroiderer that amplified each of the block’s messages and to Nancy Williams for her expert creativity with long arm quilting in the final stage. I now recognize that the partnership with the Social Justice Sewing Academy and its volunteers have succeeded in finding that balance between activism, art, and community.