Gema Varona books

Using the art of bookbinding as metaphor for repairing and finding new ways for living together, mother and daughter (Gema Varona and Chón), have created a book out of different pieces crafted in paper and cloth by participants of restorative justice programs in cases of terrorism in the Basque Country.
Gema is a professor in victimology at the Basque Institute of Criminology and María Ascensión Martínez (“Chón”) a bookbinder and historian. In a video, they explain in few words the metaphor of bookbinding in relation to restorative justice while showing the book and its content.

Below, you can watch the live conversation during the REstART festival together with two other artists (Clair Aldington and Marian Liebmann).

Gema Varona 2

The video, produced uniquely for the REstART Festival, departs from that metaphor to show some artistic works while explaining the link between their format and their content. The project is born out of a search for “divertimento” (and celebration of the 20th anniversary of the European Forum of Restorative Justice) as an invitation for our imagination to trace the metaphors that bookbinding might offer for a better public understanding of restorative justice, as mentioned above: the nexus of time, the art and mystery of reparation, the multiple layers in storytelling, the binding and the distance... This is the second project of Chón and Gema together, after having co-authored Women and the concept of honour in the historic archive of the criminal section of the Supreme Court (1957 - 1978), accessible in Spanish, with summaries in English, French and Basque. 


María Ascensión Martínez (“Chón”) and Gema Varona, mother and daughter, were born in Madrid (Spain), in 1944 and 1969, respectively. In 1971 the whole family moved to Donostia/San Sebastián in the Basque Country.

Chón holds a Ph.D. in History and is specialised in women’s history, welfare institutions and oral history. She collaborates with the Women and City Forum in Donostia and annually develops the Jane Jacobs walking.

Gema holds a Ph.D. in Law and teaches Victimology and Criminal Policy at the University of the Basque Country. She is the coordinator of the Restorative Justice Theory & Practice Lab at the same University.

Together with her bookbinding group, María Ascensión Martínez has been holding annual exhibitions of her artistic works in this field in the main public library of her city. For her, bookbinding is about “opening the opportunity for a new life” or putting together again delicate elements that were broken. Thus, beautiful metaphors can be established between restorative justice and bookbinding as a way of comparison or analogy to explore the intricate aspects of restoration.

"We are all a volume on a shelf of a library, a story unto ourselves, never possibly described with one word or even very accurately with thousands. A person is never as quiet or unrestrained as they seem, or as bad or good, as vulnerable or as strong, as sweet or as feisty; we are thickly layered, page upon lying page, behind simple covers. And love - it is not the book itself, but the binding. It can rip us apart or hold us together."
Deb Caletti
Deb Caletti

On her side, in the last years, within her work in the Restorative Justice Theory & Practice Lab Gema Varona has been organising different restorative dialogue circles with victims of terrorism and sexual abuse where she uses some of the books and notebooks bound by her mother as frames for expression and reflection on principles of restorative justice by the participants themselves. Occasionally, materials (paper, cloth, threads…) deployed during these restorative conversations have been artistically book bound by her mother, after the restorative project is over, with a pedagogical and memorialisation aim.

Drawing of Europe

Erica, the 11-year-old niece of Gema Varona, has designed the T-shirts that Gema and grandmother Chón will be wearing when recording the video on bookbinding and restorative justice. We are grateful for the creativity and enthusiasm of these three women in the family!

See the drawing below: