Yesterday I decided to go offline and visit the Historical Society of Washington, DC (801 K Street, NW) to see the opening of “Quilts for Obama: Celebrating the Inauguration of Our 44th President.” The exhibit is curated by photographer and quilt collector/artist Roland Freeman. Roland Freeman is one of those community activists who uses art and folk culture as his podium.
I was a student intern at Howard University when I was introduced to his photography – black and white photos of Baltimore’s African American community and folk culture. His most memorable photos were documents of Baltimore’s arabbers in the 1970s. Arabbers were venders who sold fruit and vegetables from a horse drawn cart.
In 1996 Roland published A Communion of the Spirits: African-American Quilters, Preservers, and Their Stories. If you have any interest in quilts, folk art and culture, African American history and culture, this is a book for your coffee table.
An encounter with Roland and his art is never dull. I grabbed my video camera to capture the opening of “Quilts for Obama.” In true fashion Roland put his cards on the table about art, supporting the arts, the meaning of art in community and as community. These quilters from all over the country, men and women, had less than 30 days to design and stitch a commemorative work of art in time for the inauguration of the 44th President.
The quilts are beautiful. Some of the quilts on display employ hand stitching (that’s the quilt stitch that secures all the layers together), strip quilting techniques, applique (especially the Obama logo), even Hawaiian quilting style (another form of applique with lots of curves). Each quilt tells a story about the history of the U.S., African American history, personal biographies, Obama’s own biography, and the meaning of the upcoming inauguration to the artist.
See the exhibit (through February 1) and visit The Group for Cultural Documentation website (www.tgcd.org). It’s a great website. “Quilts for Obama” is a grassroots effort. It still needs support to produce an exhibit brochure and catalogue. Roland gives us “the ask” as you’ll see in the video below. The basket is being passed.
In this segment, Roland Freeman invites the Obama family to visit the exhibit.