Periodically on the one of the listservs, conversations (threads) are started about creating work with “meaning” and how it relates to art. Not long ago, however, a thread emerged that left me flabbergasted. It started with a message requesting responses about what type of art quilts you are working on.
All was fine until Patricia Turner made the following post [reprinted here by permission]:
Someone replied to the post with a concern about the topic to which Patricia responded:
“I am closing in on finishing a work I am doing about
an incident of gang rape that I heard of that
happened in Dar Fur (undoubtedly and heart-
breakingly a common occurrence). It features a
satellite replica of Earth as focused on Africa that I
made from hand dyed, painted, and "smocked" silk
charmeuse. Also, a woman's face thread painted
on dupioni........the face is based on a beautiful
African mask that is housed in a European museum.
It is, obviously, not an upbeat topic but I felt
compelled for the past two years to make it.
I have absolutely no idea what I will do with it when
finished, I don't know of any shows that might accept
its subject matter for consideration as an entry.
Maybe I'm wrong?”
“I am so sorry for your horrible experience..........
But I think my work is more about the tragedy in
Dar Fur as a whole than about the crime of rape
itself. In Dar Fur rape is utilized as a tool of war.
In the story I heard on the radio two years ago a
Dar Fur physician was describing various wounds
he was treating at his makeshift hospital. In a rather
matter-of-fact way, he spoke of a woman whose
wrists were cut half way to the bone from being
hanged from the limb of a tree by her wrists and
raped by the Janjawid for 3 days.
The scene in my quilt is not graphic but it
features the woman, her wrist, and the tree with
My heart goes out to you, to me, and to all the
women of the world affected by this heinous
invasion of self.....but especially to those for
whom it is an everyday occurrence.”
Other “nay-sayers” jumped on the bandwagon and opined that Patricia was being insensitive and that the art should either be not created, not shown, or shown only at very limited and specific venues. Patricia responded:
“My work about the tragedy in Dar Fur is NOT
about rape, per se, it is about war. It is about
rape as used in war as a weapon.
It is about a war that we are not paying
attention to, in a distant land to nameless
people. It is about women and children being
mutilated. It is about our.....yours and mine
.......ignorance of and "cavalier" attitude towards
a tragedy unfolding before our eyes.
It is about 400,000 people murdered. It is
about millions displaced.
[Here, Patricia quotes a response referring
to her comments as being cavalier and a
rationalization and as evidence that she has
no understanding about what it means to
have been raped. Patricia then continues]
Guess what, you are wrong.
Perhaps you did not read my earlier post in
which I responded to Xxx with these words:
"My heart goes out to you, to me, and to all
the women of the world affected by this
heinous invasion of self.......but especially to
those for whom it is an everyday occurrence."
But this is not about me. It is about the brave
women in the Sudan who suffer unspeakable
misery for themselves and their children every
day of their lives. I will proudly display my quilt
in any venue who will accept it.”
Patricia also beautifully expressed her view of how art is defined:
Art expresses what the artist intends.Patricia continued to be attacked in subsequent posts that were couched in terms ranging from being hurt [by her "insensitivity to victims of rape"], to self-righteousness [take this conversation off-list because “ I” don’t want to read it], to outrage [how dare you want to exhibit something like this where people will see it] and finally ending in obscenity [self-explanatory]. All of these comments posted by those whom I’m sure would be highly outraged if someone tried to stifle their own artistic expression.
Art amazes the viewer each time she looks at it.
Art grows in stature and continuously matures.
Art is mysterious and powerful.
Art is unforgettable.
Fortunately, the true artists on the list began to speak:
“As artists we have the ability to make a difference in the world through our art. It isn't always easy to create what our inner self is demanding us to create - and we need to be supported, not silenced, by other artists.”
“One thing no one has mentioned (or maybe I missed) during the current wave of controversy is the power we have as artists to bring controversial subjects to the attention of the public. As artists wehave the ability to make a difference in the world through our art. It isn't always easy to create what our inner self is demanding us to create - and we need to be supported, not silenced, by other artists.”
“I am always amazed at how much people talk about protecting artistic freedom, until it gives a voice to something they do not want to hear.”
“Art isn't just about making pretty or unusual pieces that make us feel good, or leave us with no feelings at all.”
“Do definitely be unafraid to express yourself through your art. It is one of the best qualities of art – the healing power -- that can help all of us get through anything.”
“When things remain hidden, they bind us. When they are brought out into the light and exposed for what they are - it's easier to put them in proper perspective, and no one can tell another how to do it.”
“Raising awareness is crucial.... “
“...it [the quilt] speaks out about a cause that needs to be heard. Many galleries are not afraid in the least of showing political work. Quilts for Change is a big quilt show that sounds like an appropriate venue too... they specifically are fund raising to stop violence against women. My vote is go for it!”
“To say that it shouldn't be in "normal" or "average" shows, kind of proves the point that it needs to be shown. If it's only in an exhibit meant for abuse or rape of women, then only the people willing to go out and help and are that ARE willing to give thought to this problem will see it, and your average person can go along and continue to not have to face the facts that this is a huge problem around the globe.”
“I feel compelled to write that we must consider that this list is quilt ART...to my mind art is art, an artist's expression is his or her own. No one has to like it; agree with it; understand it; or even go see it. The expression is what is important and must never be censored.”
“The common theme on this list is artistic freedom - how is it that we are "eating our own"? Patricia came to this group with a question that was probably hard for her to ask, just as it was hard for her to do the piece. And the group is quickly turning”
“…it is on topic with art and quilt art. There are relevant questions being asked, and significant topics discussed. That is, I believe, the stated purpose of this group. To stop this discussion out of deference to some requests by people who are upset by this topic, is not only a mistake, not only not regarding the purpose of this group, but sounds like censorship in the worst case scenario.”
“We have had many discussions about 'what is art' on this list, and it is frequently mentioned that art is something that has meaning for you, or speaks to you. We can't all find meaning in flowers and seascapes all of the time, some of us feel a need to express our emotions about the world in our quilts, and I believe that this kind of art adds depth to whatever venue it is found in.”
“…these discussions are relevant to art and our involvement in this art form”
“I think that we often lose sight of the "ART" in "QuiltART." Art doesn't have to match our sofas, it doesn't have to be pretty, and it doesn't have to make us comfortable. It DOES have to give us something to think about - whether it be a topic as charged as this one, or simply the relationship of colors or the texture of the cloth.”
“Art sometimes shocks. That is a fact of the cultural life. Sometimes it makes political statements; sometimes it makes very personal statements. Art should move us emotionally as well as aesthetically.”
“I will continue to resist all efforts to relegate artworks that are controversial to their own little restricted venues. That is a kind of covert censorship that everyone should resist...”
“Art isn't just about making pretty or unusual pieces that make us feel good, or leave us with no feelings at all. Throughout history people have made a lot of art that deals with every uncomfortable subject in the world. It is ok, and it is all part of the art environment overall.”
“I salute all of you who make art to express things that touch you deeply emotionally, even the things that are not pretty. And thank you again, all you good folks, who stood up for those who have dared speak out about it.”
“Hear, hear, to those who create challenging work, to those who appreciate the subject and/or effort, and to those who have confidence in themselves to make choices that suit their own needs/wishes.”
“I remembered the huge controversy in which every art quilter everywherewent to bat for Jonathan Shannon...he entered the show with anabsolutely stunning quilt, I think called "Dance de Muerte," and he was honoring friends of his who had died of AIDS...[the] show rejected his piece outright, and it caused the biggest controversy over such a piece ever that I am aware of anyway.”