Mending the Social Fabric
Bonnie Meltzer, Mending the Social Fabric, 2021, installation view, vintage parachute and handkerchiefs

Mending the Social Fabric

Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, Portland, OR - To Jan 30, 2022

by Allyn Cantor

Throughout her career, longtime Portland artist Bonnie Meltzer has used artmaking as a form of activism, working mostly with textile techniques, mixed media and found objects to generate social commentary.

In the past decade, her practice has focused on environmental issues related to coal, air quality and land use, and since the 2016 election, social justice has been another theme for Meltzer. This new exhibition – first scheduled for October 2020 – originally emphasized citizen action, voting rights and immigration. Its focus has since been expanded with additional topics surrounding the pandemic and safety nets that have been woven into this telling installation.

Central to this site-specific exhibition is a large-scale vintage parachute encircled with text-embroidered handkerchiefs; phrases and quotes like “Unweave Racism Now” speak to Meltzer’s primary themes. On the wall behind the parachute are textiles from across the globe. This interactive exhibition embodies the Jewish principle of Tikkun Olam, meaning “repair the world.” The parachute, a metaphor for safety, features rips and tears that are meant to be repaired by visitors who join the artist to mend the damage over the course of the show.

As the artist states, “The very act of gathering together as a community to sew on a giant parachute will help mend the isolation and pain so many have felt in the last year.” Meltzer embraces action, hope and healing in this timely art piece.

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