About halfway through the exhibit, I saw a quilt that has had me thinking off and on throughout the day today. Initially, the images were so graphic and brought up a lot of emotion and I thought, "this is a show about beauty" and I'm not seeing that....". Then I looked at the artist's name to see if I recognized it.
I am familiar with the work of some African-American quilters, and wondered if it was someone I knew, but the name was unfamiliar to me.
That brought up some questions in my mind. I have no idea who the quilt artist is, or what her ethnicity is, and further, even questioning that makes me uncomfortable. But, I will go on. The images in this piece bring up a flood of emotions, and the subject matter is one that many would avoid discussing at any cost. The fact that it is precisely a subject that should be brought out into the light and talked about until such time as healing has been achieved, tells me that it is good that these images were used. But, on the other hand, who has a right to use the images portraying the experience of African-Americans? Aren't these images and this history the property of African-American people, and shouldn't it belong entirely to them?
My experience is that of a Caucasian woman raised in a country that has a history of violence against people of color and a tradition of institutionalized racism....I'm not speaking from pride but am acknowledging the reality of where I came from. I would not use images of lynching, the Klan, or any of the other horrors of slavery, racism, or violence against African-Americans in any quilt I make mostly because I would not wish to offend, but also because I feel that they are not mine to use.
I long have used African fabrics in quilts I make, not because they are African, but because the colors and patterns appealed to me and were right for the piece. I’m also drawn to them ~ search them out in any fabric store I visit. I made a traditional bowties quilt in African fabrics and called it "Nelson Mandela's Bow Ties". That is as close as it gets for me to using a theme or image that originates in African culture.
I've admired the quilts of Gwen Magee, and feel that as an African-American artist she has every right to "mine" African-American history for images and experiences that translate into works of art. It is her history and her culture. And who better to ensure that those images and that experience are treated with reverence and dignity. And who should profit, if there is profit, from the sale of any art that originates from the African-American experience? My thinking is that if the artist were white and created something entirely from the African-American experience, then profited from it, that would be obscene. That's just my opinion.
Kyra Hicks wrote on her blog that there are an estimated 1.9 million African-American quilters in the US today. Among them are some amazing women who have contributed to, expanded upon, and even changed the direction of quilting today. Manufacturers of designer linens and some fabric and quilt "designers" have built their careers on the contribution of these women. Look at the some of the quilts of Denyse Schmidt and those of the Gees Bend Quilters to see what I'm talking about. I'm not denigrating anyone, just making an observation.Off and on at other times I've thought some about all of that that I wrote above, but it all came together for me when I saw the quilt today. I assumed that the quilter was white, but I could be very wrong. But no matter, the questions for me remain. I think a dialogue would be good but don't know where to start ~ but, I will start. On my blog, I'm posting this today and hope that someone will read it and start to think about it too.