Quilt scholar, Maude Wahlman, has called African American quilts “the visual equivalent of blues, jazz, or gospel, rich with color and symbolism.” Many have reflections of African traditions built into them as they combine utilitarian and aesthetic elements. Quilts have long been used in African American life as both functional and symbolic objects, and catalysts for social interaction among women. Traditional quilt making has evolved into artistic expression, hung from walls rather than covering beds, and many fine artists have been inspired by them.
This exhibition uses the work of one of the most renowned artistic quilt makers, Faith Ringgold, as an entry point to look backward at traditional African American quilts and forward to expressive, decorative quilts, artistic quilts, and the work of painters and mixed media artists who improvise upon the form.
The West African cloth tradition includes the use of strips sewn together, as exemplified by the well-known kente cloth from Ghana, and the asymmetrical organization of kente can be found in traditional African American quilts. Additionally there is a patchwork practice that can be found in the Asafo flags of the Asante, and the egungun masquerade costumes of the Yoruba of Nigeria. The improvisational aspects of the patchwork tradition combined with the rhythmic organization create what Robert Farris Thompson calls “offbeat phrasing” to inform the musical aspects of quilt structures Wahlman points out.
Many visual artists have drawn upon the principles and aesthetics of quilts as inspiration for their work and this exhibition will provide a brief exploration of these rich African and African American cloth tradition as a cultural and aesthetic idiom and a context for framing the work of Ringgold and younger artists who use this tradition as a reference and inspiration for their work.
Participating Artists and Organizations In This Exhibit