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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 exhibition, And Still We Rise: Race, Culture and Visual Conversations, will provide commentary that will dispel the problem of restricted African-American artistic and historical agency by voicing, in cloth, an untold chronological account of the struggles and triumphs of a marginalized people.

“When one faction of American society is excluded from the master narrative of our collective histories, the whole society loses. The loss of a more inclusive history leaves our entire nation needlessly vulnerable to repeating mistakes of the past,” said Mazloomi.

American history is insufficient without the stories of African-American men and women, from our enslaved ancestors to our contemporary political leaders and current societal challenges. Sadly, America’s mainstream educational curricula do not adequately include diverse American histories. This is common knowledge. It is also common knowledge that average American citizens do not use reading material as the primary, preferred, or most effective mode of education.

It is imperative to adequately educate the nation about the history of the African American, but why do it with quilts?

“…Because quilting is one of America’s most powerful art forms with its widespread appeal and association with comfort, warmth, and healing. Quilts and quilt making are important to America and Black culture in particular, because the art form was historically one of the few mediums accessible to marginalized groups to tell their own story, to provide warmth for their families, and to empower them with a voice through cloth,” says Mazloomi.

“People can relate to visual history (story quilts) as opposed to reading about history in ways that reach our hearts and teach us about our shared values. Choosing quilts as the visual medium for this exhibit accentuates the intersections of African American contributions to American cultural production while at once informing others about the art form and its role in African American history. It is this often unknown and/or underappreciated shared reality that must be voiced if we are ever to truly value the unique contributions diverse groups make to the fabric of our nation.”

The exhibition also functions to educate the public about the effects of racism and misinformation about African-American contributions to the building of America. It provides an opportunity to dismiss divisive identity labels and to reconstruct triumphant identity with the viewing public.

“Never ask a historian such a question, then you get an earful,” Mazloomi jokingly replied after being asked about the inspiration for her quilts. Through the exhibit, museum visitors will experience both the quilts and African-American history as avenues toward expanded understanding of African American culture.

The exhibit uses a humanities approach to the study of culture by offering a rich experience in the arts and guiding audience members of all ages to reflect on, discuss, and explore facets of that experience.

The Journey of Hope in America: Quilts Inspired by President Barack Obama exhibit is available for public viewing until August 24 at Hampton University.