It's about understanding and telling the story.
Nearness of You
Touring Exhibition Personal and familial memories are kept safe and held close in these quilts that mark meaningful moments in the artists' lives and celebrate, mourn, and pay tribute to loved ones. The quilts exhibited in Nearness of You: Memory and Commemoration in Quiltmaking depict possessions and interests held dear by loved ones, construct a sense of familial space, narrate family lore and lessons, preserve family history, mark personal journeys, and commemorate significant family events like births, passings, bar mitzvahs, and adoptions. Many quiltmakers in Nearness of You use a variety of objects including memorabilia, photographs, clothing, and family linens and heirlooms to infuse remembrances into their quilts. These quilts are testaments to the people, places, and experiences these artists and quilters can never forget.
Nearness of You includes work by artists and quilters: Karima Abdusamad, Lauren A. Austin, Nancy G. Beckerman, Mary Beth Bellah, Tristan Robin Blakeman, Meryl Cohen, Marion Coleman, Michele David, Md, Norma Dehaven, Patricia C. Dolan, Caryl Bryer Fallert, Melissa Craven Fowler, Marjorie Diggs Freeman, Marguerite Jay Gignoux, Lyric Montgomery Kinard, Roberta A. Lawson, Kevan Rupp Lunney, Valor H. Mack, Joan N. Mccoy, Ed Johnetta Miller, Judith Plotner, Dr. Tracey Rico, Winifred Sanders, Ann Sayetta, Iris Lyons Simmons, Selena Sullivan, Candace Thomas, Maggi Tinsley, Lori Weiss, Ruth A. White, Amy Stewart Winsor, Sherri Wood, Sauda Zahra, and Sabrina Zarco.
I am intrigued by family, and how we cherish them; home, and how we interpret it; and memory, and how we mark it. I am as rapt by the narratives we create in our daily lives to help us disentangle and preserve our experiences of family, home, and memory, as I am by the narratives we create to help as understand how these influences shape the people we have become.
Quiltmaking is a natural story telling medium to record memory and narrative. Quilts have the power to keep memory safe.
My personal explorations of these themes are my inspiration for the quilts I create in my studio that serve as mnemonic devices and roadmaps of my journey. While creating quilts with this intention is an empowering experience, it is also a singular one. One afternoon in July 2005, I was thinking of my maternal grandfather who died before I was born and creating a quilt to commemorate him. I listened to Ella Fitzgerald sing Nearness of You as I hand quilted the piece.
As Ella sang, I thought about how this man I never met has somehow seemed near to me my entire life. As I stitched, I wondered who else might be sitting quietly, marking personal and familial memory with needle and thread. Later when the opportunity to curate an exhibition for Mancuso Show Management, Inc. presented itself, Nearness of You: Memory and Commemoration in Quiltmaking was conceived. Nearness became my outstretched arm to other quilters and my way of inviting them to have conversations about how we fix in memory our families and ourselves.
Curating this exhibition has been a challenge and a joy. I began the endeavor of selecting quilts with a fundamental appreciation of the varying perspectives held by people of varied cultural and religious backgrounds. I was driven to ensure this richness of human experience would be represented in the visual memorials exhibited in Nearness.
The exhibition features quilts made by males and females; internationally and nationally renowned artists, emerging artists, new quilters, and quilters who make quilts only for themselves and their families; Muslims, Jews, Mormons, Catholics, secularists, and spiritual people; quilters in their thirties to seventies; and quilters of various cultural identities. The quilts are traditional, whimsical, artful, representational, and every brand of abstract. This richness, I believe, is a great strength of this exhibition. The viewer is invited to spend time with these quilts and reflect upon our common experiences of joy, loss, and personal growth and transformation.
Curating this exhibition has also been an extraordinarily emotive experience. I spent hours in deep conversation with the quilts when they arrived in my studio and tried to imagine the thoughts and emotions held by each quilter when the quilts were created. I wondered what was in their hearts and what they were wishing. Though it sounds saccharine to say, I cried as I sat with the quilts made of mothers' clothes, lace made by a mother's hands, a spoon that fed children, scraps of cloth pieced to welcome little ones, mementos that mark change, a button from a father's uniform and maps of his journeys.
I am overcome with a sense of responsibility to each of the quilters and the loved ones they commemorate. Above all, I am eternally grateful for the trust the artists placed in me as they sent their quilted memories around the country to be greeted by a woman they'd never met. I am humbled by the courage and tenderness each of these quilters laid bare to create and share these testaments of loving and longing, and I am in awe of them.
I am grateful for this experience and I am changed by it.
Trying Not to Forget
Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University The images in the photographic archive of Behind the Veil: Documenting African American Life in the Jim Crow South, a project of the Center for Documentary Studies, are powerful vehicles for understanding African American identity. In this exhibition, Keisha Roberts and Susan Harbage Page juxtapose formal portraits with informal snapshots to explore the distinctions between public and private representations of the self.
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The images in the photographic archive of Behind the Veil: Documenting African American Life in the Jim Crow South, a project of the Center for Documentary Studies, are powerful vehicles for understanding African American identity. The images are copied from family albums and contextualized by oral history interviews and biographical information obtained during the field research phase of Behind The Veil, which began in 1990 under the direction of Duke University historians William Chafe, Raymond Gavins and Robert Korstad, assisted by graduate students in history at Duke, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina Central University.
In this exhibition, we juxtapose formal portraits with informal snapshots to explore the distinctions between public and private representations of the self. By reproducing formal and informal photographs on a single sheet, we hope to create a dialogue between these different presentations of the self as well as explore the creation of images for circulation within the family versus those made for an audience outside African American communities.
The invention of the handheld camera that took pictures at snapshot speed in the late 1870s made it possible for African Americans to create, circulate, and preserve images of themselves and convey their sense of place within their own homes and communities as well as contest the racist portrayals of blacks that appeared in the popular media. For instance, the photograph of bakery owner Elmer Bradshaw with his rolling pin shows his economic independence through entrepreneurial endeavor, but the word "Papa" inscribed over his head marks the picture with a tenderness and intimacy that places it firmly within the realm of family life. The historian Charles B. Rousseve, in his formal and constructed portrait, holds a book, the tool of his trade, as well as a symbol for African Americans' liberation through education.
These photographs allow us an insider's view of the private lives of African Americans in segregated southern communities. Trying Not to Forget challenges us to peer behind the veil of segregation to view African Americans actively engaged in inventing new ways to see and be seen.
Behind the Veil: Documenting African American Life in the Jim Crow South is a ground-breaking documentary project that seeks to correct historical misrepresentations of African American experiences during the period of legal segregation in the United States. Multiracial research teams of history graduate students from universities across the country collected over 1,200 oral history interviews and copied thousands of precious family photographs and documents in their travels across the South, from Enfield, North Carolina to LeFlore County, Mississippi; from New Iberia, Louisiana, to the Arkansas Delta; and seventeen other regions to compile the foundation of this project. These collected materials are rich resources for understanding self-images, racial pride, and African American achievement during Jim Crow.
Behind the Veil is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ford Foundation, and the Lyndhurst Foundation.
Special thanks to Jason Wagner and Dan Partridge for their assistance in producing this exhibition.
ARTQUILTSIMAGES & ARTQUILTSJOURNEYS
Professional Art Quilt Alliance-South From 2005-2007, Keisha Roberts collaborated with artist Candace Thomas to direct the juried exhibition program of the Profressional Art Quilt Alliance-South. Together they organized ARTQUILTSimages and ARTQUILTSjourneys, exhibitions juried by Hollis Chatelain, Dr. Lynn Ennis Jones and Jacquelyn Hughes Mooney that traveled the work of forty-five artists to venues in six states including Primedia Gallery in Golden, Colorado.