Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Pathway to Awareness: Quilting for Social Justice

Last night saw the opening of the exhibition A Pathway to Awareness: Quilting for Social Justice at the Maryland Institute College of Art. For loyal readers of this blog, you will remember a posting from Sara Allred in January about the very beginning of this exhibition process. This exhibition is the culmination of two and a half months of work by Dr. Gaither and her students to develop a quilt exhibition focusing on social justice issues. The exhibition opening was a phenomenal success with 200 people coming out from MICA, Baltimore-based community organizations, and members of the National Art Education Association in town for their 2010 annual conference.

As Dr. Gaither has continuously stated over the past week, the exhibition was nothing more than an idea up until 22 January 2010. Dr. Gaither was originally approached by MICA's Dean of Art Education, Dr. Karen Carroll, last December about teaching a course during the spring 2010 semester on quilting and using art to talk about social justice with a full exhibition and programming to coincide with the NAEA conference. The idea was to involve students from all parts of the college, asking them to create artworks discussing social justice issues and work with community groups to create their own quilts to be included.

The exhibit process began in January with a workshop where the 13 participants were taught about quilting and given the tools to teach others how to quilt. The participants then went out and worked with school classes, after-school programs, community organizations such as House of Ruth, a women's shelter in Baltimore, and many others to create quilts depicting social justice issues. The resulting quilts included quilt squares created by middle school students telling a personal story about their community. The entire quilt is held together by safety pins. Another piece, put together by women at House of Ruth (a Baltimore women's shelter), is in the shape of a dress and is placed on a dressform. The dress has the phrase "Sex as a Weapon" on the front with the skirt composed of images of women quilted by women from the shelter. The piece is extremely powerful and amazing to see.

The exhibition also contains pieces from the students in Dr. Gaither's class who not only put the entire exhibition together but contributed their own work. Additionally, pre-service art education students from Towson University participated in quilting sessions with Dr. Gaither resulting in a quilt of their squares combined. The exhibition includes a photography component with photographs of a local community by fifth grade students - 12 from the inner city and 12 from suburban Baltimore. At the exhibition opening last night, many of these students were present as well as a drumline from Waverly Community Center composed of young musicians ranging in grade level from 2nd through 9th giving their first public performance outside of their area.

This course is serving as Dr. Gaither's "swan song." After 44 years of teaching in the public school systems in Baltimore City and Howard County and at MICA, she has announced she is retiring. As she phrases it, she is not retiring from teaching so much as retiring to working as an artist full time. This course is the perfect fit for her style of artmaking as it incorporates teaching people to quilt in her style, involves community members, and essentially is teaching her students to do what she does. The result is a phenomenal exhibition.

The exhibition is a great, thought-provoking experience and I strongly encourage people to go visit. Thanks to Dr. Gaither's student Alex Arocho for the picture of Dr. Gaither at the exhibit opening last night. The exhibition will only be on display for a week, so go soon!

Exhibit Details:
13-19 April 2010
Maryland Institute College of Art
Meyerhoff Gallery in the Fox Building
1303 W. Mount Royal Ave.
Baltimore, MD  21217
For information contact 410.225.2297

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