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Posted on April 16th, 2014, by

Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times: the Pettway women, closely tied by the family and custom, spent the precious spare time – whilst not rearing kids, hauling water, chopping wood and plowing fields – splicing parts of old cloth to make great objects of astonishingly refined, unconventional abstract designs. The African-American quilt is connected with the lasting custom of US patchwork quilts in manners comparable to how US jazz and country music forms relate to European classic music. The contrast to music is apt as the quilt makers usually refer to the church music as the major source of the inspiration, “singing and quilting, quilting and singing” (Kimmelman, 2002).

Moving through ordinary and daily realm of domesticity, Gees Bend ladies evolved visually stunning works, which are able to move effortlessly from museum walls to bed or floor (De Vasquez, 2010). But beyond mere bed covering, quilts shelter on many levels – as sleeping pallet, cloak and even wall coverings. Hung vertically, sheer size of quilts provides them the architectural presence, which invests private space with aesthetic values, traditions, customs and memories of the occupants. In “Being and Time”¯, Heidegger writes the role of architecture is to offer the orientation in space and identification with the specific character of place (Allsopp, 1971). The quilts, providing not merely physical shelter, but also place of existential dwelling, fulfill this role.

Through the continuing process of selecting, the quilter re-maps history – the non-linear, field condition of possibility and improvisation. In this condition dissimilar points in time are depicted at the same time in a holistic topography of place and time. This non-linear field echoes sense of time as not the continuous flow of present to present, but rather the united whole in which past, present and future are but dissimilar aspects of a whole (De Vasquez, 2010).

In addition, Heidegger suggests individual and collective histories continuously “project towards”¯ the future (Farber & Reed, 1980). Through the specific individual and collective history a person may access lots of possibilities. But this future is not forever bound to the past – through free action one may select the “fact of one’s existence”¯ and in doing so, change the future (De Vasquez, 2010).

Needless to mention that this custom of making whole again what was kept away is underpinned with the African-American Christian faith system, which declares faith transcends hardship. Covering African-American with Jewish historical stories, the quilter Mary Lee Bendolph depicts her transformation of old clothes to create quilts in terms of the Israelites release from Pharaoh. What is more, she clarifies, “Initially we were in Egypt and we came through the Red Sea. Ancient things are the reminder of the Red Sea; they remind of where you have been and where the God have taken you from. So, you want to keep it. Take what the God done bless us with and utilize it. And carry on blessing”¯ (Allsopp, 1971).

Thus, for the Gee’s Bend females, moment of vision and act of selecting is manifest in the quilts. This time of choosing from (in Greek, Kairos or right moment) is what Heidegger named “the moment of vision.”¯ In Christian belief, Kairos was the redemption or fulfillment of time with the birth and death of Christ. At this critical moment of vision, through “free action”¯ or act of selecting, one may re-shape himself in own image (De Vasquez, 2010). While Heidegger did not reference the deity, for the Gees Bend females, the “moment of action”¯ is inextricably linked and only possible through the Christian faith. So, these quilts are acts of co-creation with god (Allsopp, 1971).

Conclusion

Gee’s Bend is the tiny rural community situated in the curve in the Alabama River close to Selma, Alabama. Established in the antebellum periods, it was the place of cotton plantations, mainly the lands of Joseph Gee and his family member Mark Pettway, who purchased Gee estate in 1850. After Civil War, the free slaves took surname Pettway, became tenant farmers for Pettway family, and established the all-black community practically isolated from the surrounding globe. During Great Depression, the federal administration stepped in to buy land and homes for community, bringing eccentric renown – as the “Alabama Africa” – to this tired settlement. The town’s females evolved the characteristic, bold, and complicated quilting style based on conventional African American and US quilts, but with the geometric ease evocative of Amish quilts and the modern art. The females of Gee’s Bend passed the skills and artistic down through as a minimum six generations to these days.

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