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Quilt collection illustrates Black history

Jordan Crawford | 8/1/2013, 3:27 p.m.
"Journey of Hope in America: Quilts Inspired by President Barack Obama" collection curated by Dr. Carolyn L. Mazloomi.

“The Journey of Hope in America: Quilts Inspired by President Barack Obama” commemorates a historic milestone in American history - the election of an African American man as president.

This extraordinary quilt show is curated by internationally known quilt artist, author and historian Dr. Carolyn L. Mazloomi for the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center, a part of the Ohio Historical Society.

She has fused together a diverse group of 95 fiber artists representing a variety of races, cultures, generations and religions. The exhibition will explore President Obama’s momentous 2008 election by bringing audiences a collection of powerful quilts from a wide range of styles, including art quilts, folk art and traditional quilts.

The featured quilts illustrate a broad range of techniques and materials including piecing, painting, appliqué, embroidery, dyeing, photography, beading and digital transfer, as well as inspirations.

Mazloomi, who has put together countless quilt exhibitions in the past 28 years that have toured worldwide, admits that this has been her most challenging project. "Many institutions didn't want to take a chance on having a show that was unpopular with their constituents," she said. "They didn't want to rock the boat."

After President Obama passed the health care legislation, support for his presidency took a downward turn. This had a negative effect on viewership of the collection of Obama-inspired quilts.

Mazloomi, founder of the nonprofit Women of Color Quilters Network, says that when the exhibit was conceived after the 2008 election, the idea was to highlight the African-American experience and the road to the White House. Not to celebrate an affiliation with the Democratic Party.

Many of the quilts do include the president's face and campaign iconography; however there are others that depict historic African-American figures such as Emmett Till, Rosa Parks and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Some quilts also display scenes from the civil rights movement, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington.

The quilts are intricately detailed, some with embroidery and beads. Mazloomi says they are artifacts that preserve history.

Mazloomi is currently finishing an exhibit she has been working on for the last three and a half years. The exhibition is called “And Still I Rise: Race, Culture, and Visual Conversations” and will open October 11 at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati.

“I ask myself, if we could quilt across the slave trade in Africa, across the Atlantic Ocean through the Middle Passage to the Americas; to early black citizens, inventors and entrepreneurs, enslaved and free; to the Abolitionist Movement and the Civil War; to Reconstruction and Pan Africanism; to the Industrial Revolution and the Great Migration; to the New Negro and the Harlem Renaissance; to the WPA Movement; to Negritude; to the Civil Rights Movement; to the Black Power Era and on to Black citizenry in contemporary America, what would the African- American experience in quilts look like? So begins And Still We Rise: Race, Culture and Visual Conversation.”

Mazloomi believes that when contemporary artists are in sync with the social, political and cultural currents of their communities, their artistic renderings become some of our most effective tools to foster knowledge, dismantle mythical notions, and engage the trust of others.