Missoni in Alabama

For my first official post, I thought I’d talk about a recent exhibit I saw at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. I went there this past Sunday, after going to an awesome Two Hours Traffic concert the night before. I’d heard about the exhibit a few months ago and was super excited to see it, so that’s what I did on my first weekend on the east coast.

Anyway, it was called Mary Lee Bendolph: Gee’s Bend Quilts and Beyond and it featured a collection of handmade quilts from a group of women in Gee’s Bend, Alabama. These women, most of them direct descendants of plantation slaves, produce these abstract quilts made from scraps.

Here’s an example, also my favourite:

What’s interesting about these women is that their “work” (only recently did they start recognizing themselves as artists) is being compared to paintings by these abstract famous artists, whose work these women have never seen. Although the exhibit suggests artists, the quilt above reminds me of fashion house Missoni’s patterns.

Although someone who came with me to the exhibit said that this sort of thing happens a lot in art. I don’t really understand it. These women get their ideas from the shapes that their roof made or the way a barn is outlined in a field. It’s actually amazing how they end up looking so abstract.

Mary Lee Bendolph is one of the main artists featured in the exhibition. I just love what she said about the quilts:

“The materials I use is mostly old material. People loved their pants or dresses, and they have worn out or don’t fit anymore. I make quilts out of it because I hate throwing away things, because somebody can use things that people throw away. People are so wasteful now, it hurts me to see people waste up things. Everything you throw away, it can be used and make something beautiful out of it…Old clothes have spirit in them. They also have love. When I make a quilt, that’s what I want to have, too, the love and the spirit of the people who wore it.”

Another artist made a quilt of all her husband’s old clothes after he died, so she could wrap herself in him (her words). It’s romantic but it’s also so heartbreaking because she really was able to rip up and quilt all of his clothes, and when you see it, it’s a simple design of about three or four different fabrics. It really speaks to the lives that these people live in this tiny community.
Here’s another quilt:

What’s cool about the above one is that the artist would quilt some patches and then cut them apart and re-patch them together so it looks super wild and rad.

What is also sad is that these women are all in their sixties and seventies, and their grandchildren haven’t taken a strong interest in learning their style of quilts. There was also documentary made about the artists that won an Emmy in 2005. It’s totally worth checking out.

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