This fall, Houston Center for Contemporary Craft (HCCC) presents Storyline: The Contemporary Quilt, a survey that highlights the spectrum of contemporary quilt-making techniques and traditions. As living artifacts that change over time, historically, quilts have depicted personal histories and fostered community-building throughout many different cultures. Storyline brings together a diverse selection of quilters, including Kathryn Clark, Carolyn Mazloomi, Aaron McIntosh, and Anna Von Mertens, who utilize various techniques, patterns, and materials to document their stories as well as comment on broader cultural narratives. Each artist uses the language of fiber to capture the unique content of his or her work.
“The quilt is one of the most complex objects in the history of American art,” explains HCCC Executive Director, Perry A. Price. “When hung on the wall, it can be viewed like a painting, but this art form is only truly understood when we acknowledge its complex physical construction, its historical precedent as a functional object with a relationship to the body, and its role as an artistic outlet for groups frequently marginalized by mainstream fine arts.”
Some of the quilts in Storyline revisit points in history to spark new modes of inquiry and reflection. Starting in 2015, Kathryn Clark (San Francisco, CA) researched the failure of Russia’s short-lived democracy in the ‘80s and ‘90s and discovered a pattern that anticipates Russia’s current political climate. With 2017 marking the 100-year anniversary of the Russian Revolution, Clark has embroidered an infographic timeline of the country’s democracy in her patchwork quilt, The Russia Project: 1987-1996 (2017), hallmarking the significance of this brief period.
Identifying iconic paintings from art history in her Portraits series (2009), Anna Von Mertens (Peterborough, NH) revisits the myths that surround these familiar works, taking a closer look at their subjects, through the construct of aura photography and the relationship between emotion and color. Using hand-dye techniques to produce a bold palette, Von Mertens reverse engineers the auras of her subjects, based on their personalities and places in history, to provide a more personable account of each sitter.
Other quilts act as diaries, documenting the personal histories of their authors. Activist and leader of the Women of Color Quilters Network, Carolyn Mazloomi (West Chester, OH), draws upon the African-American tradition of story quilts in her work, Wrapped in Love (2016). Producing whole cloth quilts, Mazloomi stencils, hand paints, and machine sews her images to depict the ancestral ties among three generations of women in her family. Alternatively, in his Fragments series (2012), LGBTQ activist Aaron McIntosh (Richmond, VA) machines together a series of zeros with the cover of a gay magazine as a personal reflection on his identity.