I have just returned from a quick weekend trip to OH for the opening of the 20th biennial exhibit of Quilt National. My work Defining Moments 12: NO Means NO was juried into this prestigious venue, one of 85 chosen from a pool of nearly 800 entries. My brain feels a bit like that spinning ball on a slow website…processing, processing.
Of the 85 works exhibited, six were ‘quiet works’, i.e. those with a message, whether it be social justice, women rights, politics, environment or disease. That surprised me the most, that there were so few narrative works and yet I felt gratitude that my work was selected and is being seen, and honored to be there as witness. Some folks, especially in the heartland, do not want to view anything graphic or ‘controversial’ in quilts. As example my colleague Kathy Nida had a quilt yanked from an exhibit last year because a viewer thought she saw a penis in it and complained. There was no penis. Talk about censorship!
My work addresses the insidious problem of campus rape and more specifically my own experience, 50 years ago. In my work Defining Moments 12: NO Means NO, I wrote the story of my 1967 campus rape and screen-printed it to white cloth to represent my lost virginity. I made a bias slash into the fabric to emphasize how this act of aggression disrupted my sense of personal safety and peace of mind. Then I added hand-stitching, starting with a freeing stitch at the top and increasing its intensity as my hand traveled down the work. This is where I really tapped into my anger over the assault and the shame that I had not reported it. The overall shape of the stitching reflects on the potential for pregnancy which thankfully did not happen.
I had to give two x 2 minute artist talks about the work. Although I have done a lot of public speaking, I was a tad nervous talking about such a personal subject to strangers. The compilation of talks will appear later on a Quilt National 17 DVD and also on You Tube. I will post a link when that becomes available.
One of the jurors was Nancy Crow, grande dame of the art quilt world. Eighteen pieces in this exhibit were derivative of her work. They were all bright, stunning, exquisite, abstract works of art. The many hours, days, weeks and years artists spent studying with her at the Crow Barn were quite evident. They were large, hung perfectly flat, as if a sheet of paper and not draping cloth. The stitching was sheer perfection with lines no more than 1/4″ apart. The remainder of the exhibit was interesting work, some 3-D, and beautifully constructed, well conceived ‘pretty’ quilts.
My favorite piece overall was that of Sue Benner. She designed a huge work of recycled clothing cuffs. Each cuff was the requisite three layers and they were stitched together by color groupings using tear away stabilizer and thread. It was just spectacular. One could see through it and it was just wonderful.
Undoubtedly, the best part of the weekend was real time meeting of so many colleagues I know from social media. To re-acquaint with artists I have met through SAQA, get to know artists who traveled from far off lands like Australia, Switzerland, Israel and Canada; make new friends, the networking, sharing; and especially meeting, sharing a car, hotel room and conversation with the dynamic rising star Amy Meissner from Alaska. It was pure pleasure to meet Judith Martin whose work has absolutely enthralled me for some time. She creates huge pieces, slowly and methodically hand stitching which are absolutely stunning.
I traveled three time zones and back in four days. I plan to rest up a bit and then on to #20 and more truth telling. This narrative work is tough at times but I do like the impact it makes when it goes out into the world. My work in Quilt National will exhibit at the Dairy Barn until September 4 and then will travel for two years.
Oh the places it will go!
You’re so brave to create such a personal quilt. I applaud your strength and courage. T
Thank you so much Mia!
Cindy Kelleher says
Congrats on being on of 85 chosen, kudos. This is an amazing piece, it really speaks to me and to the agony many women face with no validation for what happened to them.
Thanks so much Cindy! It is definitely an honor, well earned.😍
Amy Meissner says
It was so great to get to know you Carol! Such a highlight of the trip for me and I look forward to hearing about and seeing your entire series completed. Now THAT will be an exhibition!
I feel exactly the same, Amy. You and your profound articulate work are so incredibly inspiring. I am grateful we have crossed paths.xo
carol mcdowell says
what an honor! congratulations on doing the trip and the opportunity to talk about your work like that is wonderful. I am scared to death of public speaking but it sound like you were great. Being such a personal meaningful quilt makes it easier though. To hell with the people that can’t take looking at a penis for god’s sake. The fact that they see a penis in their minds and there isn’t even one there kind of says something, don’t you think. thanks you for showing us sue brenner’s cuff quilt. very cool! I would love to attend that show. I hope the show travels to the vermont quilt festival one of the two years.
LOL, Carol it was quite the opposite! Talking about such a deeply personal story to mostly strangers (let alone You Tube) was intimidating! And yes I totally agree about people who see imaginary offensive objects which offend them. It is their issue more than anything else. Yes, keep an eye out for the traveling exhibits. I do know they split up the exhibit and send out more than one show.
Congratulations, Carol! What a great honor. I enjoyed your review of the show, and especially loved seeing the picture of Sue Benner’s work.
Rachel Biel says
It’s always interesting to catch up on what you are working on, Carol, and this time was no exception… Reading the stories behind actions of cruelty, abuse, rape, war, etc. are always solemn for me, an offering or sacrifice of lambs to darkness. In your case, a rape of 50 years ago might have been a shocking view into the past when these horrors happened, like lynchings. We look at diseased blankets given to Native Americans as shocking, photos of slaves as a time long gone. Unfortunately, it seems that in 50 years, we have not made that much progress as human beings. Women are still being raped, as are many men and boys. Bill Cosby’s trial casts light on this as a topic again. We still have slaves and gun violence here in the US is out of control. With all the technology we have, the amazing advances in science, medicine and design, it feels like we are still emotionally a bunch of cave people, although I hope I am not insulting our ancestors…
Having the ability to share those dark moments within our textile community has great healing power. Yes, some people only want to see the pretty stuff, but in my mind, everything, even beauty is political as it is so temporal and so much is threatened these days. We all suffer in profound ways. Some of it is inflicted, some of it is just a part of being human and subject to what happens to our bodies, but I have a lot of hope for humanity and overall, we have so much to be thankful for. You have been able to translate much of your suffering into teaching tools and into building community. Thank you for the transparency and for making yourself vulnerable in this way. You have been able to grab these awful things that have happened to you by the neck, shake them a bit and then release them. May that process give you relief and even more strength. A big hug to you!
Thank you so much Rachel for your thoughtful response. While I loved making ‘pretty’ work, it is this narrative work that drives me, fills me heart and soul. Everyone has a story, and by telling mine I encourage others to think about theirs, consider how and if they might share theirs, and start conversations. Plus the challenge in how to design what I want to say keeps my brain active and engaged. It is all good! The best reward for being ‘outspoken’ is when my message impacts others, as it has you. Of course there are those who don’t want to know, don’t want to see, and certainly don’t want to talk about it! They are the ones who pat me on the head, metaphorically and tell me they hope that someday I will get over it, that I will heal. What they miss is I already have.
Rachel Biel says