Her Voice Sings: If Only the Patchwork Could Talk

Her Voice Sings:
If Only the Patchwork Could Talk

by Trelani Michelle



Perfectly Flawed by Phyllis Stephens

Merging Black History Month in February and Women’s History Month in March is the Her Voice Sings exhibition, featuring a range of works by Black women artists. Between February 16th and March 25th, Black Art in America will exhibit Her Voice Sings, featuring works by: Phyllis Stephens, K. Joy Peters, Wynter Bell, Honey Pierre, Tonia Mitchell, Wendy Kendrick, Deborah Shedrick, Zoya Taylor, Monica Brown, Tae Jackson, Sachi Rome, Angela Carter, Kai Young, Tina Dunkley, Stefanie Jackson, Daphne Arthur and Gwendolyn Aqui-Brooks. Including paintings, mixed media, textile, sculpture and quilts of these 12 celebrated women artists from around the country, the creative expressions of this group exhibition sing a song that echoes life for Black women, Black people, and humanity in general.

The black and white appliques by K. Joy Peters “address two melodic stories of our life experiences including celebrations and painful goodbyes” while proving that vibrancy isn’t reliant on color. You can hear the splashing stream of the “Forest Waterfall” just as much as you can hear the jazzy performances in “Outdoor Music Festival” and “The Solo” while imagining if perhaps the family in “Hey Baby” travels the “Covered Bridge” to get home to their “Hidden Stilted Cabin.”

K. Joy Peters | "Covered Bridge" | 30 x 37 inches, applique --framed

Contrasting Peters’ black and whites are Wynter Bell’s vivid reds and blues. “Further Thing From the Sun” is the profile of a Black woman smiling with her eyes closed as if giving thanks to God for finally aligning her passion with her purpose. She’s highlighted with and surrounded by the color red, crescent moons, and accented yellows in her hair, her headwrap, earring, and necklace. “Is This Love” brings the blues but in not in mood, strictly in color. Also a gouache-painted piece, the sister in this painting is also smiling with eyes closed, sitting on a shoreline with the mountains of difficulty behind her. Right now, she’s basking in the glow of ease and self-love.

Moments like the ones reflected in Wynter Bell’s pieces are so comforting, so necessary because life, like the ocean, ebbs and flows. Our experiences are not standard or undeviating. Naturally, we embody and exude both light and darkness, joy and pain. How we show up individually and collectively reveals a world of complexity. As Zoya Taylor explained, “We all have a cast of characters that define our lives. Personal demons or angels—spiritual or not…that draw on human themes of secrecy, pride, and hurt, but also humor and love.” Taylor’s five paintings in the exhibit serenade the duality that we all possess in characters who have wide eyes, large heads, bold colors, and a deep sense of familiarity.

 

Zoya Taylor | "Stay Woke, Stay Standing" | 39 x 59 inches oil on linen canvas, 2018 --unframed

Honey Pierre’s textiles blend yard, paper, beads, paint, and pastel to remind us of our inner little girl—double dutching with our friends as we see in “Jump I” and “Jump II,” being dolled up for picture day like “Little Reign,” or imagining ourselves as wild and free as a “Western Dream.” The women in Tonia Mitchell’s quilts seem the perfect guardians of the little girls in Honey Pierre’s pieces. The woman in “Untitled: Lady Quilt” reminds us not to give it all away; save some of your goods for yourself. Protect your brilliance and your creations. The woman in “Untitled: Charm Quilt” warns you not to stop adorning yourself. Fashion yourself in colors and fabrics that align with how you feel or with how you want to feel. Then the sister in “Untitled: Cowrie Shell Quilt” mirrors your royalty. You are regal and worthy simply for being.  

Wendy Kendrick’s quilts continue those to-us-from-us sentiments, reminding us on a spiritual level that we’re all descendants of an African woman. Kendrick’s quilts incorporate sewing, which her grandmother taught her to do; storytelling, which her mother excelled at; and vibrant patterns, which her travels inspired in her. The two exhibited pieces are ancestral nudges to practice more “Patience” in our daily walk because rushing through is only taking us to our graves faster. Slow down. Breathe deeper. Relax your shoulders and rest in knowing that you are “Led By God.”

A fan favorite is also being featured: “If Only the Patchwork Could Talk.” The 2022 BAIA-Sponsored initiative coordinated by Marvel Micheale gathered 20 women who’d experienced a traumatic medical ordeal to share their journey of what happened and how it shaped who they are. Their words and images are woven together in a 92 x 96-inch quilt that catalogs what millions of women experience every single year. An audio exhibit accompanies the quilt for an even richer experience, one that calls for several moments of silence as reflect on what we’ve personally been through or what we’ve witnessed a loved one soldier through.

Gwendolyn Aqui-Brooks represents in Her Voice Sings with two quilts and two paintings. Her “hand-sewn hybrids of patchwork, geometric abstraction, and narrative themes” sing a song that we can all resonate with. That life promises us “Bitter Sweet Times” as well as moments to let go and let the good times roll as perfectly demonstrated in “The Mardi Gras Harlequin.” Aqui-Brooks’ paintings express a similar sentiment of “Quiet Blues” and the innocent confidence and the knowing that we both are led by God and guarded by our elders and ancestors depicted in “Amaque & His Sister (Big Brother & Little Sister).”

Gwendolyn Aqui-Brooks | "The Mardi Gras Harlequin" | 32 x 35 inches, hand quilt of cotton fabric, synthetic fabric, cotton batting, silk thread, acrylic paint, felt, lace, and ribbon --unframed

For the abstract lovers, we warmly welcome you to Deborah Shedrick’s imagination of vibrant colors and texture in her combination of acrylic paint and thread on watercolor paper. “Connected” slows you down, requiring you to pause and ponder the connection within each of our individual bodies—mind, body, and spirit—and how we’re intricately connected to the universal network of all living things. Then follow us into the imagination of Angela Carter whose striking lines and deliberate patterns take you on a trip of feelings and wonder. Every viewer arrives at a unique destination, be it the limitless future or the nostalgic past.

Monica Brown’s pieces are inherently ancestral, so visceral that the woman in the “Doorway,” for instance, feels as much like one of my foremothers as one of yours. The photographed women in her collages remind us that they aren’t far away; they’re “Just Beyond the Veil.” We’re not in this alone and the road ain’t gotta feel so hard under our feet because we’re “Held By Grace.” In the years that question rather than answer, word to Zora Neale Hurston, Brown’s “I Prayed For You Before You Were Born I” whispers that it’s all intentional and that, ultimately, it’s all good. The “Foundation” is already laid.

Monica Brown | "Just Beyond the Veil" | 4 x 4 inches, acrylic and mixed mixed collage on wood -- unframed

Daphne Arthur’s “Arianne, A Morsel of Mysticism” takes us back to the altar with its smoke on paper, depicting “beauty and decay. Intuition and cognition. Illusion and reality.” The young Black woman with long, thick locs reaches up to pick from what appears to be a tree. She knows she’s safe. She knows she’s one with everything around her. Is she Eve, the first woman, or has existence circled back around to its natural beginnings?

The woman in Sachi Rome’s piece, “Dreaming Not Drowned” might be meditating on that exact question. Her closed eyes and erect spine says that her rest is intentional and divine. She’s in tune with the infinite, an Afro-futurist. Created with acrylic then dusted with diamond, she can’t be shaken because she knows who and whose she is. Following suit, Rome’s other two pieces express the same sense of self-awareness and groundedness.

Tae Jackson brings an armful of sculptures to the exhibit that brings it all together, brings it all home. Blending cotton fabric, jean fabric, batting, thread, wood, and metal, Jackson’s sculptures are monuments of the past, present, and future; of getting and being free; of individuality and togetherness; of the tangible and of Spirit. Her piece “Say Her Name” echoes the writing of Alice Walker in her book, In Search of Our Mothers’ Garden, saying, “We are a people. A people do not throw their geniuses away. And if they are thrown away, it is our duty as artists and as witnesses for the future to collect them again for the sake of our children, and, if necessary, bone by bone.”

 

Tae Jackson | "Say Her Name" | 16 x 3 x 1 inches, Scrap cotton, jean fabric, batting, cotton thread, wood

Her Voice Sings is another platform for Black Art in America to crown our Black women geniuses. It’s our way to acknowledge the struggle of being Black and being a woman in a country that hasn’t been safe or equitable for either demographics. Yet, Black women show up and show out time and time again to ensure that we as a people and as a nation are guided, nurtured, and, when necessary, corrected. BAIA doesn’t wait for national holidays to honor our people. We do that all year. We do, however, maximize the moment. So while the nation tunes in to the histories and testaments of Black people and of women, we’re building a stage for 12 already legendary women artists to exhibit the painted, quilted, sculpted, crafted timeless narrative that Her Voice Sings.

And we invite you to join us: February 16th-March 18th at the Black Art in America Gallery in East Point, Georgia.

 

Trelani Michelle is an award-winning writer, oral historian, and teaching artist. Crowned Savannah’s Best Local Author in 2021, Trelani published a catalog of Black Savannah’s biographies called Krak Teet. She also co-authored the New York Times bestselling Gullah Geechee Home Cooking. A storyteller and a story-gatherer with a Bachelor’s from SSU and an MFA from SCAD, Trelani interned with the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center to further her work of “Zora Neale Hurstoning” and teaching the history that textbooks overlook. Editor for Black Art in America, Trelani combines storytelling and art to reposition Black history as the basis for the whole versus a historical sidebar. She’s presented her work at UNC’s Black Communities Conference, SCAD, Georgia Council for the Arts, The Highlander Research and Education Center, and more.

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