Blog, Exhibitions

We Will Walk

Art and resistance in the American South

Turner Contemporary Margate 7 February -3 May 2020

Ralf Griffin Eagle from Found Wood, nails, paint
Griffin made his work from tree roots from the banks of Poplar Root Branch, the small creek behind his home. The works were created to sit outside his yard, visible to passers-by

The work in this extensive exhibition is by African American artists in the American South during the second half of the twentieth Century to present day. 

         Slavery and segregation shaped the rural and industrial economies of the South and created a regime of racial terror. Much of the art in We Will Walk was made within this context.

         Produced in outdoor yards, the work takes many forms, from ephemeral environments made from salvaged materials to sculptural assemblages, paintings, musical instruments and quilts.

         In the segregated South, creators drew on black Southern cosmology, musical improvisation, American history, African traditions and more recently popular culture as materials for their work.

Blues and Spiritual music were exported from the South to the rest of USA and beyond. The art in We Will Walk can be seen as a visual equivalent of this musical improvisation but has been overlooked until relatively recently.

Annie-Mae Young with quilts and her great granddaughter Shaquettein Rehobeth Alabama 1993

         It was during the Civil Rights protests (1954-1968) that  walking, as an act of courage and protest, came to the fore. The title of this exhibition reflects that courage and protest.

To Quote Martin Luther King

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

Activists like the writer James Baldwin and the photographer Doris Derby went to the South to bear witness and demand change. Vast communal acts like the historic marches from Selma to Montgomery (1965) started a process of transformation that gradually allowed hidden artistic practices to become viable.

         The exhibition highlights the innovative visual languages created by these artists, their relationship to history, the environment and their influence on American culture. We are in a new era of protest and resistance, even Prince William, at the recent Bafta award ceremony, expressed his frustration at the lack of recognition of diversity within the film industry.

WE WILL WALK presents the extraordinary creativity of artists working outside the mainstream for the first time in the UK.

         My main purpose for visiting this exhibition was to see the quilts of Gee’s Bend, today known as Boykin. For those who haven’t heard of it, Gee’s Bend is a small community located on a former plantation in Alabama. It lies on a spit of land surrounded by the Alabama River. The deeply rural community has become world famous for their unique hand made quilts created by the women for their own use and gradually recognised and collected by outsiders.

Linked to their maker’s history of poverty and hard labour on the cotton plantation, the quilts are made from repurposed materials. They contain abstract visual languages that have been developed in isolation over a hundred years. The ferry that linked Gee’s Bend to Camden, the nearest town, was removed in order to prevent the residents from registering to the right to vote and from voting during the 1960’s and was not re-instated for forty years.

         The quilts are made from used clothing such as blue jeans and football shirts, their materials follow the history of American clothing, as fabrics developed and changed. It was relatively common for plantation owners to name their enslaved workers with their own names, which remain a symbol of a terrible past. Many of the quilters are descendants of people enslaved on the Pettyway Plantation, which is reflected in their names to this day.

         Much of the show draws on the tradition of the ‘Yard Show’, temporary outdoor environments made from salvaged materials.

James ‘Son Ford’ Thomas was a blues musician and sculptor. He sculpted heads from unfired clay dug from local source. His subjects ranged from historical figures to local community members. He also worked as a grave digger and many of his heads include human teeth.

         The exhibition was conceived by, the artist, Hannah Collins, who spent three years researching and developing the show. She is joined by curator Paul Goodwin, professor of Contemporary Art  and urbanisation at University of the Arts London. His particular interest is in fugitive art practices and place. 

         This exhibition is worth seeing, if only as a way to view of recent history. These artists turned impossible circumstances into innovative artworks and still do so today. This is an  excellent, and deeply profound exhibition.

Blog, book review, Book Reviews

Kaffe Fassett’s Quilts in the Cotswolds

A new blaze of colour in yet another new book this summer from Kaffe Fassett. I do so love this man’s eye for colour, and this book doesn’t disappoint.

Folded Ribbon

20 Designs for Patchwork and Quilting

Kaffe Fassett

“ This book is really another homage to the long, rich history of the folk art of quilts. I picked Hidcote Gardens for the location, for the photography and because it was the first British Garden to open my eyes to the English genius for creating great theatrical gardens. I hope in this humble book you get enough of an impress ion of my favourite English Garden.” Kaffe Fassett

Sunny Zig Zag

In this twenty first installment of Kaffe Fassett’s ever-popular series of patchwork and quilting books, Kaffe has chosen to show off his latest range of fabrics by revisiting many of his favourite medallion quilt blocks.

Photographed on location at the world-famous Hidcote Manor Garden in the beautiful Cotswolds countryside, these delectable quilts find their perfect setting among the brilliant flower borders, avenues of trees, and stunning architectural features that make Hidcote one of the most visited gardens in the UK.

Autumn Chintz

Medallion quilts have universal appeal and the simple framework of the medallion design makes a great vehicle for Kaffe’s eye-catching colour combinations in his brilliant range of fabric designs.

Malachite Jupiter

Assisted by his team of designers and makers, Kaffe has created an exquisite and varied range of 19 medallion designs, among them the rich Berry Ice Cream quilt, photographed in Hidcote’s world famous Red Border; the dramatic Dark Gameboard, photographed against the geometric precision of Hidcote’s famous topiary hedges; and soft Flowery Jar, its pink and blue themed design echoing the colours of the flowers in Hidcote’s early summer border.

Lavender Ice Cream

Photographed on location by Debbie Patterson

Kaffe Fassett’s Quilts in the Cotswolds provides all the basic instructional text, diagrams, and templates to make the quilts, plus a section on basic patchwork techniques for less experienced quilters.

9781641550840 | PB with flaps | £25 | Taunton | distributed in the UK by GMC publications