by Suzanne Labry
Suzy on Carolyn Mazloomi's Groundbreaking Quilt Exhibit
“And Still We Rise: Race, Culture and Visual Conversations”
In 1619, a Dutch ship sailed into port at Jamestown, Virginia.
“The ship's cargo hold was empty except for twenty or so Africans whom the captain and his crew had recently robbed from a Spanish ship. The captain exchanged the Africans for food, then set sail. It's not clear if the Africans were considered slaves or indentured servants. (An indentured servant would be required to work a set amount of time, then granted freedom.)…Whatever the status of these first Africans to arrive at Jamestown, it is clear that by 1640, at least one African had been declared a slave….The terrible transformation to racial slavery was underway.” (http://www.pbs.org)
This incident, three-dimensionally rendered in fabric by Houston artist, Carolyn Crump, is the first in the chronologically-ordered quilt exhibit of African-American history entitled, And Still We Rise: Race, Culture and Visual Conversations, on tour in the United States for the next few years.
Inspired by the upcoming 400th anniversary of that landing and its implications, quilt artist, author and historian Carolyn L. Mazloomi put together a select group of 69 artists to depict historic events marking the African-American experience in the United States.
Although the group produced a total of 97 quilts—all of which are documented in a book—the traveling exhibition contains 69 quilts.
Stunning in their range, scope and artistry, the quilts do not shy away from illustrating the legacy of slavery’s oppression and racism (think John Brown all the way up to Trayvon Martin); but they also proudly celebrate the many achievements and historic firsts achieved by African-Americans despite that legacy.
Everything from their cultural influences in literature, film, sports, and music to the election of the first black president are given stunning visual treatment.
Buffalo soldiers (both male and even a female); the first African-American female to earn an aviation license; the first African-American teacher; the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to strike down the ban against interracial marriage; America’s first self-made female millionaire; the inventor of the traffic light; the first African-American trade union—the remarkable catalogue goes on and on.
Each quilt is a history lesson in itself and demands of the viewer far more than a cursory glance. These are powerful stories, powerfully told.
Curated by Carolyn Mazloomi, director of the Women of Color Quilter’s Network (WCQN), And Still We Rise was organized by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and Cincinnati Museum Center. Its current touring schedule includes the following itinerary:
1/16/2016-4/24/2016 Bruce Museum (Greenwich, CT)
9/24/2016-1/01/2017 Museum of the Shenandoah Valley (Winchester, VA)
1/20/2017-6/04/2017 Kalamazoo Valley Museum (Kalamazoo, MI)
If you are lucky enough to be near one of the tour locations, go see this exhibit. You will be amazed and edified.