Popping up all over the world are images of Barack Obama. There are Obama books, hats, t-shirts, even Obama music. Some may call it commercialism. Others see it as the expression of a new world culture embracing change. Tradition has its place, too, in the celebration. Over the years quilting has evolved from a woman’s art and craft handed down through generations to an innovative expression of time. Needles, threads, stitches, fabrics – these are the new tools of political dissonance, of modern silent revolutions finding their voice in creative imagination, sharp eyes and nimble fingertips, and sewing machines.
In the span of about one month, over sixty quilt artists produced a body of striking commemorative pieces that celebrate Barack Obama and his legacy as the first African-American president of the United States. At the call of curator Roland L. Freeman (shown left), in collaboration with the Historical Society of Washington D.C. and The Group for Cultural Documentation, Inc., men and women from around the world contributed quilts to the world debut of the exhibition “Quilts for Obama: Celebrating the Inauguration of Our 44th President.” The show runs now through January 31, 2009.
Highlights of the show include a quilt made by the immediate relatives of First Lady Michelle Obama. Entitled “From Slave Cabin to White House,” the quilt depicts a collection of the most memorable events of Mrs. Obama’s life, underscoring most significantly her graduation from Princeton University and Harvard Law School.
Laura Gadson from New York, NY, submitted “Hope Comes to Harlem,” a touching piece depicting a snapshot of an inner city neighborhood after President Obama has won the November 4th election. Against a wall of gray cement, red, white, and blue graffiti shout “Obama” while in the foreground, a young African-American male – outfitted in jeans, a baseball cap, and an oversized hoodie – stands out from what onlookers might imagine a raucous crowd before him.
Geraldine Nash from Port Gibson, MS, entered “The Hands that Picked Cotton, Now Help Pick Presidents.” The title is an aptly borrowed slogan from the civil rights era. Two MidAtlantic artists, Carole Lyles Shaw from Columbia, MD, and Bis Butler from Bridgewater, NJ, submitted works entitled “Commander in Chief #1” and “One Vote, 2008” respectively.
The well thought-out quilts on exhibit now at Washington, D.C.’s historical society also share another trait beyond Barack Obama. Many of the quilts challenge the limits of the centuries old traditions of quilt making. The exhibit is wholly three dimensional, colored vividly with bright hues of yellow, rich blues and deep blacks, purples, reds. It is a veritable feast for visual senses and stretches the imagination of artists on the myriad possibilities available to them when they work and quilt with fabric.
Perhaps the artists’ daring approaches is symbolic of the daring that the American electorate has taken to elect President Barack Obama. Karen Sallis, the program manager assistant at the Historical Society of Washington D.C. notes that “the quilting community has something to say [through this exhibit]. It represents many walks of society.” Many feelings and experiences are expressed in this exhibition, making it an artistic showing steeped both in history and emotion.
Historical Society of Washington, D.C.
801 K Street, NW
at Mount Vernon Square
Washington, DC 20001