Published: July 19, 2021
When Minneapolis, Minn., became the epicenter of the nationwide protest movement against police brutality and racism in the United States following the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, the Textile Center, which is in Minneapolis, and the Women of Color Quilter’s Network joined forces to create “We Are The Story,” a multi-venue initiative of the same name curated by Dr Carolyn Mazloomi. The exhibition of 122 quilts inspired by Floyd’s death was accompanied by a book of the same name and we reached out to Mazloomi for what inspired the exhibition and book and what the response to it has been.
How soon after George Floyd’s death did the idea to publish this book come together?
It was two days after his death. I felt I had to do something. I’d been curating and making quilts about social justice for about 40 years. There’s no one victim but this was the first time that I focused on only one individual.
Are all the quilts in the book made by women in the Women of Color Quilters Network?
No. They were made by women in the Women of Color Quilter’s Network and friends. When I put out the call, I got responses from every community – black, white, Latina, LGBTQ. This was a clarion call for all people who have suffered injustice of any kind.
Are there any quilts in the exhibition made by men?
We sometimes have quilts made by men in the quilt exhibits I’ve curated but it just happened that none of the ones in ‘We Are The Story’ are made by men. People think that the African American quilting community is large but they represent only one percent of all of the quilters in America.
Were they all made in response to Floyd’s death, or were some made prior to that but were topical in subject matter?
I think 99 percent were made especially for this exhibition and book.
You founded Women of Color Quilter’s Network (WCQN) in 1985 – what was the inspiration for doing so?
There needed to be an organization to disseminate information about the cultural significance and monetary value of quilts made by women of color. It was at a time when Black-made quilts were being made and sold in galleries; I wondered if the moneys were trickling down to the artists who made them. Over the years, the organization has focused on the preservation and presenting of quilts, as well as educating the country about the history of African American quilt making. We do workshops, exhibitions and lectures. In the last 40 years, we have exhibited in both the United States and around the world. If people want to learn more about it, they can look online at www.wcqn.org.
Though the book We Are The Story has only recently been published, it accompanies exhibitions that began in Minneapolis in or after September 2020. Was the fact that the exhibitions – and Floyd’s death – all took place in Minneapolis coincidental or intentional?
I’m on the advisory board of the Textile Center, which is in Minneapolis. Immediately after his murder, I thought it was a good opportunity to inundate the Minneapolis area with quilts. Because I’m on the board, it was easy for me to come into Minneapolis for this series of shows.
What has the response to those exhibitions been like, both from the textile community and the larger art community?
The great consensus has been very positive. People have been seriously touched by the shows. At the same time, there are those people who send nasty emails and hate mail. That says to me that at least the haters are looking at what we’re saying through the quilts.
Are there any individual responses that stand out for you?
Several. I keep a folder of them.
Would you share some with us?
One letter reads…and I’ll just read parts of it…”I was literally blown away by the beauty, ingenuity, artistic ability and stories these quilts had to tell…As a white American, I was deeply embarrassed that I was so very ignorant of African American history…I’m ashamed that such an important part of our country’s history has been left out of our education.”
Is it gratifying to you to hear that?
Of course it is. As an artist and curator, it’s always gratifying to hear that it makes a difference. How they view issues such as racism…that they can view it with understanding, not hatred. To be able to look at Black folks and not just hate.
The final exhibition at the Textile Center closed on June 12 but I imagine the dialogue begun by the exhibition and book are continuing. What’s next for the book and exhibition?
There is still one solo show – “Freedom Rising: I Am the Story / L’Merchie Frazier,” which is at the Minneapolis Institute of Art through September 19.
The show is traveling. That’s been the intent: to have a dialogue about the difficult topic of racism. That will carry on while the show travels.
Are quilts in the exhibition being sold?
Yes, there have been several sales. Another goal of the Women of Color Quilter’s Network is to sell the quilts, to have the sale of the quilts sustain the women and men who make them.
Is any part of the proceeds from the sale of the quilts going to an organization for social justice?
No, the moneys raised are going back to the quilters.
Who gets proceeds from the book sales?
Proceeds from ALL WCQN catalogs benefit WCQN.
Do you have an idea of how many people have viewed the exhibitions?
No, I don’t. Because of Covid, we’re not in normal times. People have gone to see it but admission has been severely restricted. At one point, the center was closed.
The Underground Railroad Freedom Center Museum in Cincinnati has opened an exhibit of quilts from ‘We Are The Story.’ It will be on view through September 24 and Covid restrictions there have been lifted so things are pretty much back to normal.
-Madelia Hickman Ring
[Editor’s note: We Are The Story: A Visual Response to Racism by Dr Carolyn Mazloomi, Paper Moon Publishing, West Chester, Ohio, 2021, 254 pp, softcover, $40, is available for sale at www.textilecentermn.org]
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