Idea: The Stand With Ukraine Listening Loom project promotes healing and solidarity across boundaries.
Primary artistic medium: multidisciplinary
Tieshka Smith (she/her) is a Philadelphia-based documentary/street photographer. She has created bodies of work that document the challenges of neighborhood change in Germantown, Brewerytown, Lower/Olde Kensington, (Evansville) Indiana and (Oak Park) Illinois, while asking the simple question: “Who benefits?” Tieshka sees this partnership with Kathryn as a logical progression of the direction in which her artistic practice is taking her. She began blending street photography with audio recording in 2017 when she was a Philadelphia Assembled collaborating artist interrogating neighborhood change in Lower/Olde Kensington, including a 14-episode 2017 podcast entitled “Taking My Stake Out of The Ground,” that she produced, along with a companion photo essay entitled “Battlegrounds.Boundaries.Blessings”. And in late 2020/early 2021, she produced a two-part podcast entitled “How Far Can A Needle Take You?” where she interviewed three women textile artists – Betty Leacraft, Dindga McCannon and Beth Mount – about their fine art quilting practices.
Kathryn Pannepacker is a Philadelphia-based textile/visual/community artist and the creator of the Listening Loom project. In a 2021 Philadelphia Inquirer article, (“​​), she packs up her loom, her yarns, two stools, her sign, hand sanitizer, and masks and sets up somewhere folks are likely to walk by. She greets those whose eyes meet hers, asks how they’ve been. She answers the questions of the curious, and gives people a chance, if they choose, to talk about anything they wish.” Her work was a powerful antidote to the isolation and uncertainty defining the COVID-19 pandemic over the last two years.
Smith and Pannepacker came to know one another when Smith lived in Germantown from 2011-2015. Pannepacker, a longtime Germantown resident, sets up her Listening Loom on the corner of Germantown and Chelten (a street corner that Smith knows very well), but has also worked her weaving magic in the Kensington section of Philadelphia.
She has set up her loom on the corner of Kensington and Allegheny Avenues to connect with people concerned about the lack of quality of life supports like better drug treatment and mental health care, affordable housing, and improved sanitation services. For four years, she and fellow artist Lisa Kelley created “Tuesday Tea & Textiles,” a series of weaving workshops and art programming at the (now closed) Kensington Storefront, a community space that had been funded by Mural Arts Philadelphia and the city Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services. Prior to its closure, Pannepacker set up her Listening Loom outside of the Kensington Storefront as a way to connect with residents and passersby and build trust and a sense of continuity. In addition, Pannepacker has offered art programs through Prevention Point, the public health and harm-reduction organization in Kensington.
Pannepacker’s Listening Loom project elevates public art and community engagement to new heights, transforming the practice of weaving, one street corner at a time. Bringing this practice to the upper reaches of the Northeast is about, among other things, creatively referencing and honoring a venerable Eastern European tradition of weaving going back several centuries.
Photographer Tieshka Smith and textile artist Kathryn Pannepacker will co-create the Stand With Ukraine Listening Loom project. Both have a proven track record of working in and with communities throughout Philadelphia and elsewhere that may be marginalized from the American mainstream.
Through this project, we will center the voices of everyday Ukrainian, Russian and Polish people alongside artists, activists, caretakers, etc, in these communities, who are keepers of their respective cultures in a foreign land; those who are on the front lines of protesting the terror, trauma, turbulence and uncertainty of this war; and those who are quietly but powerfully maintaining a sense of normalcy and continuity in these communities.
Part quiet public performance and ritual, part celebration of resilience and grit, part memorial and cathartic release, this project will feature the blending of three media – weaving, photography and audio recording technology – to bear witness to personal testimonies of everyday people, document, and amplify social connections between and among neighbors that have been maintained and strengthened since the escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict in February 2022. Also, this project will mark the unofficial end of the COVID-19 global pandemic marked by negligence, neglect, isolation, grief and loss.
This idea builds upon the work that Kathryn began with her Listening Loom project in 2019 where she took a loom, materials, two stools, signage and an open heart and mind to busy street corners in Germantown and Kensington to make heartfelt connections with people and listen to their concerns, hopes and dreams. The Standing With Ukraine Listening Loom will be staged at one or more busy street corners in the northeast. Kathryn will not only invite passersby to sit with her and chat, but she will drape them with a one of a kind “Stand With Ukraine” yellow and blue “healing blanket,” that she will weave for this project. Kathryn will also tie an “affirmation bracelet” of blue and/or yellow yarn around the wrists of those who participate, as an act of solidarity. As they chat, participants will be invited to read a written “healing blanket” affirmation in whatever language they choose. Finally, if they choose to, participants will add the names of/messages of loved ones to a textile shag upside-down Ukrainian flag on lightweight fencing that Kathryn will weave for this project.
These interactions will be photographed and recorded with the consent of participants, and the work will go on display at a community location to be chosen, alongside work from textile artists and photographers in the community, as part of a larger community exhibit/conversation/fundraising event benefiting a Philadelphia organization serving those affected by the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
Together with these communities, we will demonstrate that making art can spark and sustain the mutual exchange of small, meaningful gestures, casual but affirming words of hope, comfort and uplift, and healing; and that artmaking can reach back while pressing forward to unite and connect everyday people, while transcending language barriers, race, class, ability, and political differences.