When a faction of American society is excluded from the master narrative of the country’s collective histories, the whole society loses. Failure to tell an inclusive history of any nation leaves its citizens needlessly vulnerable to repeating patterns of oppression and injustice from the past.
It is this issue that has served as a point of both reflection and address for the artists of And Still We Rise: Race, Culture, and Visual Conversations. As active representatives in sync with the social, political and cultural currents of their communities, contemporary artists’ renderings can serve as some of the world’s most effective tools for imparting historical narratives and as powerful weapons against ignorance, fear, and distrust.
This exhibition constitutes an unprecedented arsenal of such tools and weapons. It assails 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.
And Still We Rise employs a “timeline” of contemporary original quilts to trace paths through events in Black History in America - from the first slaves abducted by Dutch traders in 1619, to the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, to brave souls marching for civil rights, to the election of the first African-American president 400 years later. Unrivalled in breadth and scope, together in one sweeping collection, And Still We Rise: Race, Culture and Visual Conversations provides an unparalleled multi-voice account of people and events that have marked the evolution of what it means to be Black in America.
Individually, the quilts of this collection bring visitors face to face with people, places and events that may be unfamiliar in the context of “traditional” American History. Collectively, they give voice to a critical part of the development of America as a land of liberty- the enormous and yet-to-be-told story of the new Africans and the onset and demise of American slavery, all entwined with a still-broader narrative about the ascendant influence of African-American culture on the American cultural landscape. Created by over 60 artists, the 85 story quilts of And Still We Rise serve as an impactful medium for telling diverse American histories in place of the single-voice narratives that have characterized educational curricula of the past.
Educating American citizens about the breadth and variety of our complex and multi-stranded national history is critical to the country’s identity and its vitality. Quilting is an ideal medium to accomplish this lofty charge; it carries widespread appeal, possesses associations with comfort and healing, and represents a renowned African-American art and cultural tradition. In addition to functioning as revered heirlooms and as utilitarian objects that warm loved ones, quilts have also historically represented one of few art mediums accessible to marginalized groups to tell personal stories in individualized voices.
The story quilts included in And Still We Rise relate personal, authentic, and unique histories of African-American men and women-- from painful stories of enslaved ancestors, to triumphs of contemporary political leaders. In many instances, they draw attention to social challenges our nation continues to face. The works in this exhibition prompt dialogs between artist and viewer that propel discussions of racial reconciliation forward into the next generation of problem solvers. They approach social issues and topics that are embedded in the American memory as sensitive cultural parameters of race, class, and gender-- themes that James and Lois Horton have termed “the tough stuff of American History.”
And Still We Rise also reflects on how racism and misinformation have impacted narratives of African Americans’ contributions to the building of America. In this regard, it is both the 85 story quilts, and the African-American history that they convey, that serve as avenues toward expanded understanding of African-American culture. Programming and discussion will further enhance the exhibit’s educational impact for visitors, encouraging them to think about issues involving identity, race, and worldview via an Humanities-based approach to the study of culture.
This exhibition brings together a collection of powerful, creative, and masterfully-executed artworks that have been marshaled in order to inspire, provoke, and educate audiences. For the African-American viewer, the exhibition is a multifaceted representation of Black cultural genius. For viewers external to the culture, it is an awakening to the unknown and uncelebrated contributions of African-American artists to their history. For scholars of Fine Art and American Studies, the exhibition is fertile soil for research inquiry and artistic critique of first-rate material cultural works emanating from contemporary American artistic masters.
By shining a spotlight on modern fiber artists who operate at the very top of their medium and harnessing the power of story quilts to relate emotional narratives of African-American experiences, And Still We Rise celebrates the unique contributions that diverse groups make to the fabric of our nation.
-Carolyn L. Mazloomi, Curator