I See You

“Don’t turn away,” they said. “Please see us. Please keep looking.” 

When artist and activist Lena Bartula heard these entreaties from Palestinian journalists on Instagram late last year, she was moved to act. 

She’d been asking herself how she could make a difference. She’d wanted to know how she could use her voice and her art to, as she told me recently, “do something about what we were all witnessing.”

Then, “it just came to me,” she said. “I thought, ‘I see you!’” And out of that came her newest textile art project, “Yo Te Veo” (I See You): squares of brightly colored fabric, each with a wide-open eye in the center, uniquely embroidered by caring volunteer participants. These squares are now being sewn together like a quilt onto an enormous huipil (traditional Mexican sleeveless, rectangular blouse), which will be part of Bartula’s solo exhibit at the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City from late May through early August.


All these eyes, Bartula told me, are “reminders that we’re watching the suffering, while at the same time watching the perpetrators. It’s about our staying awake and keeping our eyes open, not going back to sleep.”

          (Above: Lena Bartula with the big huipil in progress)

Since “Yo Te Veo” began four months ago, about 100 people (“99.5% women”) have participated in this textile art project, sitting in small groups at the sewing table in Bartula’s sunny studio in Colonia Guadalupe in San Miguel de Allende. To date these volunteers have made over 400 embroidered squares, but there’s room for more.

Lena Bartula at the sewing table in her Artspace studio

 “I invite people if they feel the need for something to do with their collective grief and the collective trauma that this genocide is causing,” Bartula said. “This is something that would be very therapeutic, very healing. 

“I’m also open to facilitating groups and working with other sewing groups in other parts of the world, making some kind of cross-cultural exchange to understand each other’s feelings and needs that might be addressed by a program such as this. Just imagine: It could be a cross-cultural exchange of witnesses for injustice! So powerful.”

When I asked Bartula what she’s learned from this ongoing project so far, she said, “What I’ve noticed from the women I stitch with is that there’s a solidarity there that they’ve never experienced before. It’s not like group therapy. It’s not like a workshop. It’s not like a party. It’s a way of being with people for a greater cause than we understand. What it really is, is people who feel so deeply that they don’t know what else to do; they don’t know where else to put their feelings.

“And even after Palestine, it will always be something – Yemen, Syria, Congo, Sudan – it will always be something.”

And she is also making prayer flags for the cause

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For much more information about artist Lena Bartula, her work, her book, and this new project, be sure to visit these valuable links:

25 thoughts on “I See You”

  1. THANK YOU, Len and Bonnie…will try to get to Mexico City to see this. abrazos Fuentes from Pat Hirschl, now living in ABQ NM

  2. What a poignant way to express your love and connection to a distant, tyrannized people. Make squares of cloth with wildly variant eyes attending, then stitch them together in a quilt. Thank you for connecting all of us to this project, BonnieDear. xoxo ~ Be

  3. So grateful to Lena for deploying her love and artistic talents to express our common concerns about this ongoing tragedy. Thanks for the story, Bonnie. xoxoxo

  4. It is a thought provoking project and an inspiration, and the first thing that came to my mind is The Eye of God, also known as the Eye of Providence.
    It is a symbol that represents divine watchfulness and the Supreme Being taking care of the universe.
    I remember sitting in a Greek Orthodox church as a child and looking at a stained glass window that depicted this eye symbolism with rays of sunlight emanating from it.
    I feel saddened by the last lines of your post, Bonnie. “it will always be something”
    Is it acceptable to “know” and to “see” and be helpless to do anything?
    That’s probably the thought behind the women who have come together to create these squares, and hence the solidarity. If the movement became global, it would be a phenomenal message.

    1. Yes, that’s a wonderful image, dear Loula: the eye of God. And, I agree with you that it would be phenomenal if this “I See You” movement became global! Thank you, as ever, for your insightful thoughts.

  5. Thank you to all of you and to you, Bonnie, for your words about this project. I’m stitching all day every day and haven’t taken the time to adequately read and respond, but please know how much I appreciate your solidaridarity for Palestine, and genocidal atrocities in our world. May we all seek to do everything we can to undermine the powers who create them.

  6. Dear Bon,
    Each square is lovely on its own, but together they become a political artifact. Lena Bartula has found a wonderful project to unite people around an idea. I think it’s brilliant.

  7. Bonnie, thank you for highlighting my amazing neighbor, Lena’s wonderful work! Lena, you have no idea how deeply this resonates with me. On Oct. 15, 2023 around midnight I was sitting in bed in Tallahassee, FL, distraught with all of the news about Israel and Gaza. I was listening to a story on the New York Times Audio platform. A young Palestinian man and a retired Palestinian woman were interviewed. As I listen to the woman sharing about being trapped in Gaza after going to visit her ailing parents. She closed out the interview by revealing she was a recently retired elementary art teacher from a school a few miles from my Florida home!! A grandmother, like me. As a Jewish woman who has traveled to Israel, I realized I knew very little about Palestinians and Gaza. At that moment, she (Wafa) put a familiar face on a very horrifying situation. I looked her up on Facebook and when I saw her I felt an overwhelming need to let her know that even though she was mostly cut off from the outside, I Saw Her! She would not be forgotten in the midst of the nightmare. I sent her a FB message saying as much. She responded almost immediately! Two strangers from the same city, worlds apart. Since that night we have become friends and stay in contact frequently. She reached out to me to share that on a single day 10 family members were killed.
    I was in Parque Juarez having my Day of the Dead makeup done when she texted me that she had just crossed into Egypt! Needless to say I was overwhelmed with emotion. She returned to FL only to return to Egypt to care for her mother, father and two sister-in-laws when they finally made it out of Gaza. She contacted me when her poor father died. She is certain he died from a broken heart after losing his sons, other family, home, everything. They don’t even know what has happened to other remaining family. Can you even imagine?
    Recently she and a surviving brother were able to get their mother to Florida. Wafa and I will finally meet in person next week. We plan to sit in her garden, hold hands and cry together. However, when I read this story late the other night I immediately sent it to her and said we should join Lena’s efforts. Again she replied immediately and said she had produced something similar years ago while working with traumatized students. She agreed – let’s do this!! I even shared this story with local artist, James Harvey, at Fabrica and he said he would love to be part of this! We fantasized about having Lena’s efforts spread to the states, around the world…
    Thank you Lena and Bonnie for opening my eyes to another way to continue opening my heart. I need to chat with Lena to learn how to incorporate our efforts. And next week I will finally get to see with my own eyes my dear Wafa, one of the strongest women I have ever known.
    Peace & Love,
    YaYa (Gail Stansberry-Ziffer)
    Colonia Guadalupe

    1. Oh, my goodness, Gail — your story has taken my breath away! Thank you so much for sharing it. I’m sure Lena will be thrilled to read it too and to connect with you. All best wishes and much love to you and Wafa. — Bonnie

      1. Thank you, Bonnie! We’ve all helped one another. Lena and I spoke tonight. Tomorrow we will sew together and figure out how to expand this collaborative show of support.

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