"The African American Quilt Museum and Textile Academy will host the first ever National African American Quilt Conference, a city wide event in celebration of the history and legacy of African Americans in Lawrence, the African American quilting tradition, and contemporary art in various mediums of African American artists. Plans for the Conference include keynote speaker Faith Ringgold, exhibition and demonstration in various art forms in the Cultural District, including the Lawrence Public Library, Watkins Museum, and the Spencer Museum of Art, educational programs for children and adults, plus historical walks and tours."
I am extremely excited about the fact that this is happening. It is the first of its kind in the United States. I know many people are asking why an African American Quilt Conference when there are so many quilt conferences and conventions already in existence. My daughter told me of an African student asking her why African Americans have HBCU's (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). She said they don't have "historically white colleges and universities." My brother-in-law used to say "what is understood does not need to be explained." Well for some strange reason pro-black strikes fear in the heart of many and conjures up images of anti-white. Pro-black is not Anti-white just as pro-white is not necessarily anti-black, however, pro-white is another one of those understood things that doesn't need to be explained. The entire country is pro-white. It goes without saying. Everything was originally built for white people so there is no need to say it is white-that is understood.
Our situation, experience, mental state and our pain in this country is so complex that most of us don't realize the extent of it. When we were brought to this country we were strategically positioned outside of the society and all of its functions. Sadly, we are still strategically positioned outside of many functions in this society whether consciously or unconsciously.
I have had the experience of being the only African American person (or one of two) at many quilt shows, exhibits and conferences. I pretended not to see the stares that said, "how dare you be here or who let her in the show." I have also had the experience of my art being totally misunderstood because it did not conform to the European standards of art currently accepted as correct. Consequently, we call ourselves out-the-box-artists since we don't fit into the neatly packaged box of perfectly straight seams; we don't follow symmetry; we don't always follow the color combination rules; and we want to express our different experience. We like catty-wampas, slanted, tilted, and syncopated. So when we do compete beside other groups of people, our difference is not acknowledged, understood or accepted. We often leave those exhibits feeling like we have done something wrong.
Don't get me wrong because there are African American quilters that do beautiful traditional work- perfect stitches-all points match and the works. Sometimes their work gets lost in the stacks and stacks of other quilters doing the same. We want to celebrate them as well.
We need a conference that we can share our ideas about our style of work, where we can share our concepts and our techniques, where we can show each other love and respect. We need a conference that will hold up the leaders among us (African American Quilters) and they can in turn share there knowledge and experience.
We want to look up to Faith Ringgold, Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi and the many many other African American quilt innovators and pray that some of their magic rubs off on us. We want a place where we can let our hair down and be comfortable with ourselves, crooked stitches-loud colors-calm colors-cowryshell hair and the like.
We can hardly wait to hear our story told by Dr, Daniel Atkinson, Marla A, Jackson, Denise Valentine, and Phyllis Lawson. This conference brings together some of the awesome artists such as Rachel Clark, Lola Jenkins, Bisa Butler, and myself (who is just glad to be mentioned in such outstanding company) to share what they do. There is also a genealogist and historical researcher who will share with us techniques and venues for finding our own family history. We also need some time to just love on each other. We need time to talk face to face, to touch and to hug. We need that
special time set aside just to say to each other from all parts of the country that "We hear you."
Of course everyone is invited to attend. And I am sure we will enjoy people from many different races learning side by side with us as we have done at so many other conventions and conferences.
In closing let me say that there is nothing wrong with standing up for yourself. There is nothing wrong with singing your own song even if others think you are loud and out of tune.
The great philosopher Russell Simmons said, "DO YOU!" It is time that we "Do Us" at the National African American Quilt Conference. Please join us. and check out the website for more information. www.naaqc.org