Bosna Quilts

Bosna Quilts are children of war

30.07.2021

It all begins in a refugee home. Conceived as a temporary employment project, it will turn into a workshop that has now created over 2,000 quilts. As colorful, as artistic, as friendly as Bosna Quilts are – they are children of war. And as paradoxical as it sounds: Without the misery of fleeing a war, the Bosna Quilt Workshop would not exist.

Entrance to the Galina refugee home in Frastanz, near Feldkirch | Photo Nikolaus Walter

There is war in Bosnia. Around 90,000 displaced persons seek protection in Austria. Imagine that today, in a context in which unbearable right-wing populists often have their way when they call for walls and fences! But it's not 2021, it's 1993. Some of the displaced people find temporary accommodation in the Galina refugee home, a former barracks near Feldkirch. There they wait, in their uncertainty about the fate of those who stayed at home, forced into idleness.

 A psychotherapist has the idea of ​​bringing artists from Vorarlberg together with the Bosnian refugee women to develop meaningful employment. Lucia Lienhard-Giesinger likes the project and she goes along with it. Lucia is a painter. But as if by chance, she decides to sew quilts with the Bosnian women. With a bag full of fabrics and a few drafts, Lucia drives to Galina and hopes that a few women will want to join her group. Her hopes materialize: One of the women – the current director of the Bosna Quilting Workshop in Bosnia – raises her hand to signal: You can count on me!

Safira Hošo is currently working on a quilt. In the background, her husband Omer and their two sons Damir and Vedan. | Photo Nikolaus Walter

Lucia is making the designs at home. Not on paper, but directly with the fabrics on the floor.

When Lucia first came into contact with the Bosnian women, they wrote down a few terms in Bosnian on a piece of paper that might help to communicate. «Dopada li ti se?» means, for example, «Do you like it?» The fact that there is not just «Hello,» «Good night», «Thank you» and «Please» right from the start, but also the fundamental question of whether you like it, is perhaps one of the keys to the unplanned and unexpected longevity of the Project across so many borders.

The garage workshop is not only about work. It is also a meeting place where you can have coffee. | Photo by Nikolaus Walter

This is how the first quilts are made on a foldable table in a former garage. Lucia knows how to handle colors, but she has never made a quilt in her life. And the Bosnian women, they can of course sew, but they have never quilted a quilt in their life. Luckily! Without knowing the different quilting traditions around the world, without knowing the established rules of quilting and stitch lengths, Lucia and the Bosnian women «reinvented» the quilt.

Vesna Malokas with her son Ado | Photo Nikolaus Walter

There are other groups in the barracks who, for example, knot, embroider or weave. The quilters appreciate that they can take the quilts with them into their rooms. To immerse oneself in a beautiful task gives a little privacy and a little inner peace in the confined space of the home.

Bosna Quilts from the early years

Soon a nice selection of quilts is ready in the garage and needs to be shown to an audience. An exhibition? Yes! The workshop’s first-ever quilt exhibition takes place in the rooms of the Chamber of Labor (Arbeiterkammer) in Feldkirch. And the women need to pick a name for the project. A name has to be found quickly. Why not «Bosna Quilt Workshop»? Yes, that's what it should be called!

And on this very first invitation to the exhibition, there is also a quote that will accompany the workshop over the years. It is from Erich Fried:

If the night
had no door
where would enter
the day

The very first Bosna Quilt exhibition at the Chamber of Labor in Feldkirch | Photo: Nikolaus Walter

At the end of 1995, the war is finally over. An unstable peace is concluded in Dayton. In 1997, a large number of refugees can or must return to their destroyed homeland. Some can stay in Austria. Everyone thinks that this is the end of the Bosna Quilt Workshop.

Except Safira. She once said to Lucia early on over coffee in the garage workshop: «When we return, you have to keep doing it with us!» Of course, nobody believed that this could one day come true. Not even Safira. But it did.

> Read here how the story continues.

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Bosna Quilts

Text: Lucia Lienhard-Giesinger, Daniel Lienhard, Laurenz Feinig.
Gestaltung: Grafische Praxis, Feldkirch, Development: weitweit.com
Fotografie: Daniel Lienhard, wo nicht anders angegeben