When Donald Trump won the 2016 election, Aram Han Sifuentes, a Korean-born California native, felt rejected by her country as a person of color and a first-generation immigrant. She wanted to resist and speak up but was wary of attending protests for fear of getting arrested.
“I wanted to go and protest but didn’t feel safe going,” Sifuentes said, explaining that she has a small child and, at the time, she was not a citizen. “I have to do something and the only thing I know (how to do) right now is making protest banners.”
Sifuentes learned how to sew when she was six from her mother who worked as a seamstress in California since 1992. Sifuentes is currently a professor in fiber arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Sifuentes saw sewing as her way to lend her voice to what was happening in politics and speak out about immigrants’ and women’s rights. She began making protest banners at home by herself and then started to invite friends over to create their own designs. The first three banners she made read “Dump Trump,” “Stop Deportations,” and “Aliens Welcome.”
With piles of banners sitting at her home, she came up with the idea of lending them to other people who go to protests. People can order signs by emailing Sifuentes with specific requirements and slogans.
“I’m making it and wanting it to be used,” Sifuentes said. “I don’t want them just used by my friends. I want more people to help spread the word.”
Along with three other Chicago artists—Verónica Casado Hernández, Ishita Dharap, and Tabitha Anne Kunkes, Sifuentes opened the Protest Banner Lending Library after the 2016 election, a time when protests were happening almost every day. They made banners per requests they received and allowed protesters to check them out free of charge, with no due dates and no late fees.
They also hosted workshops at different locations, primarily with non-citizen community groups, teaching people how to design and sew protest banners. Workshops are usually around two hours, where people can create protest banners to use in whatever context they choose.
Sifuentes said the workshops are about something much bigger than learning technical skills. The primary goal is to create a space for people like her who don’t feel safe going to protests but still want to find a way to participate.
The library has since produced around 700 banners with different subjects and has recently been nominated for a Beazley Designs of the Year award. It now houses over 180 banners in-house with varied slogans and subjects.
With high demand since launching a year ago, they plan to bring this concept to more cities and are in talks with different organizations to make it happen. Cities in their pipeline are Philadelphia, Boston and Los Angeles.
“We really want to make it a national thing and even an international thing,” Sifuentes said. “I think it is really important that we have communities in different cities in solidarity.”
“As long as there is a protest, I’m going to keep the library going,” she added.
Take a look at those protest banners: