Image: Annie Mae Young, Bars, c. 1965 (detail), Image Stephen Pitkin, Pitkin Studio.
It’s the last chance to see a collection of Gee’s Bend quilts in the UK, as part of the Turner Contemporary’s We Will Walk exhibition. We Will Walk: Art and Resistance in the American South has re-opened and is booking until 6 September, when the gallery will close for works. The exhibition shows art from the Civil Rights period in the 1950s and 60s. Some works are in direct dialogue with this era of protest, while others evidence the longstanding impact of segregation and racial terror. The exhibition draws on the tradition of the ‘Yard Show’, temporary outdoor environments made from salvaged materials. This includes the root sculptures of Bessie Harvey and Emmer Sewell’s iconic sculpture created outside her home in Marion County. It also includes drawings by Bill Traylor and a room of quilts from the isolated hamlet of Gee’s Bend (known today as Boykin) in Alabama, by artists including Mary Lee Bendolph and Annie Mae Young.
Image: Dinah Young's Yard #1, photo by Hannah Collins.
The world-famous Gee’s Bend quilts have a distinctive style and are often made from recycling old clothing such as blue jeans. Annie Mae Young: “I like big pieces and long strips. However I get them, that’s how I used them. I liked to sew them however they be. I work it out, study the way to make it, get it to be right, kind of like working out a puzzle. You find the colours and the shapes and certain fabrics that work out right. I always like cotton, but not the other stuff too much. I stayed with what I started with: old clothes that I could tear up. It always came out level.”
In an article about the quilters in Selvedge’s first issue, Verna Suit says: “Gee’s Bend’s quilters were first publicly acknowledged in the 1960s, when civil rights activists mobilised about a third of them into a quilting cooperative. The striking local quilts, with their minimalist style and similarity to abstract paintings, caught the attention of the fickle New York art world and the Freedom Quilting Bee contracted to reproduce quilts for Bloomingdales.”
Image: Mary Lee Bendolph, Basket Weave Variation c. 1990), Image Stephen Pitkin, Pitkin Studio
Next to We Will Walk, documenting the current Black Lives Matter movement, the Turner is showing an exhibition from local People Dem Collective. It is a direct response to the global protests resulting from the murder of George Floyd. This follows the anti–racism marches in Thanet, organised by People Dem Collective, a Margate organisation, which were attended by over 4000 people.To book a timeslot to see We Will Walk (free but booking is required) visit turnercontemporary.org