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Caution: Artists at Play

Renee Wormack-Keels

I am a narrative art or story quilter. Quilting has been one of the most popular forms for Black women to tell our stories, sharing injustices and the lack of equality in this country. We will never stop telling our stories. The history of African American women in the United States often not included in the history of black men or women.

I fell in love with women’s studies and African American studies in the late 70’s while in graduate school. For the first time, I learned about the phenomenal stories of survival and suffering. It was life changing.
Many years later, I found myself interested in quilting, once again discovering the lack of black women in an art form that has been foundational in the history of textile arts.

Telling our stories through quilting is now my greatest passion. Why? Some people will never open a book to read these stories, but people are drawn to visual stories. I am committed to telling our stories in quilts. Art quilting is also a spiritual practice that I feel is important. My process allows me to “imagine” in cloth and thread, as well as other objects that can be utilized in mixed media fiber art.

Several years ago, I began to research black women blues singer and entertainers. I was amazed at the vast number of women who were not only singers but band leaders, supporting and leading their own groups. The other thing that interested me was their expressions of “sexuality” in their music. Alberta Hunter’s, “Handy Man” is loaded with many innuendos of just how “handy” her man was! Dinah Washington’s, “long John blues” is however, not quite so subtle. At any rate, the abundance of music produced in the 20s and 30s is phenomenal. Contemporary singers would do well to “reach back” (as in the symbol of the Sankofa) and find out more about the history of the legendary music of black women.