In coining the phrase “the medium is the message,” Marshall McLuhan probably didn’t have knitting in mind. But yarn is precisely the medium put to use by Kirk Dunn, and he very much hopes to share a message with his three large tapestries that explore the commonalities and conflicts of three different faiths.
For the past 15 years, Dunn has been knitting three 90-pound tapestries that explore Judaism, Christianity and Islam faith. Each panel is knitted to look like a stained-glass window that reflects different images related to each of the religions. He’ll be bringing that art to Floradale Mennonite Church Saturday for a one-man play about his own spiritual and artistic journey.
Dunn’s project started in the aftermath of 9/11, when he was inspired to start a conversation about themes of xenophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamphobia, which he sees as increasingly prevalent in the world that surrounds us.
That tragedy, filtered through his own upbringing in the Presbyterian Church, sparked the concept that would become the artwork itself, he explained.
Through the journey of creating these panels, Dunn unravelled the conflicts within himself, issues that he struggles with.
“You start off with a good idea – you’re inspired, and then things don’t go as planned and we make mistakes or we make a fool of ourselves,” said Dunn of some of the highs and lows he experienced while working on the project.
What first started as a way for Dunn to get better at knitting quickly turned into a self-growth project, he added, originally thinking it would take just 10 months to complete. Instead, it grew to a 15-year personal journey.
Given that it’s an intimate show that is shaped by personal experiences, many people are taken aback when they hear the name of the show, Dunn notes, adding that afterwards there’s a sense of relation and understanding from the audience.
“It’s an ‘if you can do it, then I can do it’ experience for people.”
To develop the conversation around the desired themes, Dunn worked closely with representatives of each faith who provided him with insight needed to design each of the panels. This also allowed the artist to develop the ability to create a personal portrayal of the experiences and feelings of others.
“Focusing on what knits us together, rather than what pulls us apart, is a place to start,” he explained.
At the beginning of each show, Dunn starts off with a knitting demonstration where he works on a scarf that he says will be used in an upcoming project. This is an interactive part of the performance where the audience gets to learn more about knitting but also take part in the next project the artist is working on. People are also encouraged to bring their own knitting tools as Dunn shares his story on stage.
With more than 40 shows on the Ontario tour, the Knitting Pilgrim is making its way to Floradale Mennonite Church on Saturday. Instead of selling tickets, the church is offering the show as a free-will offering, asking for donations from the crowd that will go to helping Mennonite Coalition for Refugee Support (MCRS) in Kitchener. The venue that doesn’t normally sell tickets for events, so organizers hope that the audience will take the chance to give back to this organization in whatever way they can.
The show will be happening on October 26 at Floradale Mennonite Church, with doors opening at 6:30 p.m. and the show starting at 7 p.m. The venue holds up to 350 people, with seating on a first-come basis. Bring knitting supplies if you want to get involved in the performance.