MICHELLE OBAMA’S NOD TO GEES BEND QUILTS

 

The colorful pattern speaks to the uniquely Obama-esque blend of patriotism and activism, tradition and modernity. Quilting is the essence of Americana; specifically, the pattern evokes the strikingly modernist quilts created by the isolated African-American community of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, beginning in the late nineteenth century. Created from recycled scraps of fabric, often in unheated shacks with no running water or electricity, the quilts are notable for their abstract, asymmetrical compositions, in stark contrast with the geometric regularity of traditional American quilts. Since being rediscovered in the 1960s, Gee’s Bend quilts have been exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

The women of Gee’s Bend—a small, remote, black community in Alabama—have created hundreds of quilt masterpieces dating from the early twentieth century to the present. Resembling an inland island, Gee’s Bend is surrounded on three sides by the Alabama River. The seven hundred or so inhabitants of this small, rural community are mostly descendants of slaves, and for generations they worked the fields belonging to the local Pettway plantation. Quiltmakers there have produced countless patchwork masterpieces beginning as far back as the mid-nineteenth century, with the oldest existing examples dating from the 1920s. Enlivened by a visual imagination that extends the expressive boundaries of the quilt genre, these astounding creations constitute a crucial chapter in the history of African American art.

ARTIST

Amy Sherald born in Columbus, Georgia received her MFA in Painting from Maryland Institute College of Art (2004) and BA in Painting from Clark-Atlanta University (1997), and was a Spelman College International Artist-in-Residence in Portobelo, Panama (1997). In 2016, Sherald was the first woman to win the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition grand prize; an accompanying exhibition, The Outwin 2016, has been on tour since 2016 and opened at the Kemper Museum, Kansas City, MO in October 2017. Sherald has had solo shows at venues including Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago (2016); Reginald F. Lewis Museum, Baltimore (2013); and University of North Carolina, Sonja Haynes Stone Center, Chapel Hill (2011). In May 2018, she will present a solo exhibition at Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis, MO. Group exhibitions include Southern Accent, Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC (2016), travelled to Speed Museum of Art, Louisville, KY (2017); and Face to Face: Los Angeles Collects Portraiture, California African American Museum, Los Angeles (2017). Residencies include Odd Nerdrum Private Study, Larvik, Norway (2005); Tong Xion Art Center, Beijing, China (2008); Creative Art Alliance, Baltimore (2016); and Joan Mitchell Foundation, New Orleans (2017). Public collections include Embassy of the United States, Dakar, Senegal; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.; Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C.; Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.; The Columbus Museum, Columbus, GA; Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MO; and Nasher Museum of Art, Durham, NC.

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