Quilted Chronicles: Comforters for a Fraught Era
Works by Jo-Ann Morgan
September 29, 2023 - October 29, 2023
“I began sewing during the pandemic. Quilting and applique’ techniques seemed a perfect choice for making art during trying times. I created a female figure as a focal point and named her Nuestra Dama de la Corona (Lady Corona). She is intended as a comforting presence, not unlike a deity or favorite doll, to offer respite and hope within scenarios that bring attention to social inequality. She wears a crown, gloves, and mask. Lady Corona has offered comfort to children at the US/ Mexico border, paid tribute to people who have passed, and remembered victims of violence. In more recent work other figures assume a similar role. The wall-mounted hangings are constructed in layered cotton fabric. Because they resemble quilted comforters, which are familiar and approachable, the medium is ideal for addressing provocative topics related to social justice and inequality. Despite the unsettling themes, these stitched fabric pictures offer a soothing counterpoint to the harsh events of contemporary reality. If there is a message running throughout this work is “seeking comfort in a fraught world.” Art can be a way to process events and experiences that are almost too much to bear. I consider artmaking to be my form of activism. These quilted wall hangings recall the spontaneous memorials that communities erect after an untimely death. I first noticed this impulse after the death of Trayvon Martin, when scores of people created portraits of the young man, some of which were waved during demonstrations. Again, after the death of Michael Brown, a memorial of flowers and other items was raised in Ferguson, Missouri at the spot where he was killed by police. Similarly, the deaths of Breonna Taylor and then George Floyd brought out widespread commemorations, expanding awareness of the national movement known as Black Lives Matter. In addition to artwork that commemorates Taylor and Floyd, I have memorialized Elijah McClain, Aurora, Colorado; Ronald Green, Monroe, Louisiana; and Ahmaud Arbery, Brunswick, Georgia, all of whom died at the hands of police. Recently I am embarked on a series that brings attention to the shooting of nineteen children at Robb Elementary School, Uvalde, TX. These quilted works are individualized portraits, but they are also meant to be universal. They celebrate the short lives of the ten-year-old victims and are meant to evoke our collective outrage.”
Jo-Ann Morgan is Professor Emeritus of African American Studies and Art History at Western Illinois University. She authored The Black Arts Movement and the Black Panther Party in American Visual Culture (Routledge, 2019) and Uncle Tom’s Cabin as Visual Culture, which won the Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship in 2008.
Since 2020 Morgan has been a full-time visual artist, creating stitched fabric wall hangings on themes related to social justice and gun violence. Among her awards are a Not Real Art Award from Culver City Arts Foundation (2022), a Weyerhaeuser Juror Award from Great Northern Art Explosion, Grayling, MI (2021), a Cultural Commentary/Social Change Grant from Fiber Art Now (summer/fall 2021), and several honorable mentions. Her work has been in over twenty-five juried shows. Solo exhibitions include Dalton Gallery, Arts Council of York County, Rockhill, SC (February 2022), Park Circle Gallery, North Charleston, SC (November 2022), and Maude Kerns Art Center, Eugene, OR (February 2023).
Image Credit: “Sueños de La Madre” machine quilted cotton with applique overlay by Jo-Ann Morgan.