Handwoven cloth, thread
Dimensions variable (each cloth is 23 x 23 cm)
Image courtesy of the artist
As Jesus struggled up the hill to his death, bleeding, bowed down by the weight of the cross and taunted by the crowd, a woman stepped towards him. She was powerless to save Jesus’ life but she used what she had, a cloth, to wipe the blood and sweat from his face and to do what she could to witness and support him.
In 2013 thousands of refugees were condemned by Australia to indefinite detention on Manus and Nauru. Their suffering still continues under worsening conditions. Ten have died. In Australia, an increasing number of people, mostly women, do what we can to witness and support the refugees. We are inspired by the refugees’ own peaceful and creative actions. We cannot directly intervene and free them from offshore detention but we can continue to do as Veronica did and use whatever means we have to act for humanity and love.
My activism started with writing daily letters of protest to the Prime Minister. After a time I began standing on the street, holding a placard. People who come up to me often express horror at offshore detention and ask ‘but what can we do?’
I have made this work to give people space and means to express their feelings about the refugees imprisoned on Manus and Nauru. I hand-wove plain facecloths and invited small groups to sit together, sharing and stitching their responses onto the cloths. The physicality of stitching can express a spontaneous response more directly than drawing or writing. The cloths bear not the imprint of the refugees’ faces, but the impulse of empathy and humanity that Australian people feel for the refugees and that they want to express. As long as the refugees remain imprisoned this work is in progress.
Ruth Halbert is a full time artist who works with textile processes, installation and text. She uses traditional textile hand-making practices with local and found materials to explore liminal space beyond fixed ideas, where change can happen. Halbert is influenced by her background in science which informs her use of repetition, duration and number play. Her practice is motivated by feminism and social justice. Since graduating from Edith Cowan University in 2012, she has undertaken residencies in Australia and Sweden and exhibited in Perth, most recently Castaway in 2017. She lives in Denmark, Western Australia.
Wiping faces, dirty faces;
faces full of sweat and tears,
faces covered in chocolate and in jam.
Wiping faces is something we try to do gently and lovingly,
something that soothes and cleanses,
something that brings healing.
Wiping faces is something we do for those who are young, or old,
or in pain, or in trouble,
Wanting them to know that they are cherished and loved.
And when we wipe the faces of God’s little ones,
we are wiping the face of God.
© Ruth Burgess and Chris Polhill
Eggs and Ashes: Practical & liturgical resources for Lent and Holy Week.
- Year: 2018
- Station Number 6
- Veronica Wipes Jesus' Face
- Exhibitor Ruth Halbert
I was hungry and you fed me,
thirsty, and you gave me a drink.
I was a stranger and you received me in your homes,
naked and you clothed me;
I was sick and you took care of me,
in prison and you visited me.
Whenever you did this – you did it for me.
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