Image: Candis Mosely Pettway Coat of Many Colors (quilting bee name),1970. Courtesy Souls Grown Deep Foundation and Alison Jacques Gallery, London © Candis Pettway.
Until February, Alison Jacques Gallery, London, is showing the first solo exhibition in Europe devoted to three generations of women artists living in Gee’s Bend, now known as Boykin, a remote black community situated on a U turn in the Alabama River. The exhibition provides a survey of quilts spanning over 90 years from the 1930s through to 2013 with some of the artists still living and working in Boykin today. The exhibition is organised in partnership with the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to documenting, preserving, and promoting the contributions of African American artists of the South, and the cultural traditions in which they are rooted. The Foundation derives its name from a 1921 poem by Langston Hughes (1902 - 1967), the last line of which is: My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
Image: Loretta Pettway Log Cabin, 1980. Courtesy Souls Grown Deep Foundation and Alison Jacques Gallery, London © Loretta Pettway / Artists RightsSociety (ARS), New York and DACS, London.
The geographic isolation of Boykin, and the tightly knit community within it, has created a unique environment for the women’s art community and their chosen language of quilting. The experimental processes and compositional language of these quilts has been passed through many generations of Gee’s Bend residents from grandmothers to mothers to daughters. The idea of handing down or passing on knowledge through generations of the same family is a key part of the artists’ work, and in the show we see members of the same family’s work exhibited side by side. A quilt by Aolar Mosely (1912 - 1999) from the 1950s is shown alongside her daughter Mary Lee Bendolph (b. 1935), and her granddaughter Essie Bendolph Pettway (b. 1956); both of whom continue to make work today. A quilt from the 1930s by Annie E. Pettway (1904 - 1972) is shown alongside her granddaughter Rita Mae Pettway (b. 1941). The familial lines of quilts illustrate a sense of community. Continuity is key with ideas passed on but uniquely interpreted within each generation. These quilts signify the artists personal pasts and hopes for the future, but also respect the culture from which they originated.
Image: Stella Mae Pettway Big Wheel,1986. Courtesy the Artist and Alison Jacques Gallery, London © Stella Mae Pettway / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London.
The Gee's Bend Quiltmakers, Alison Jacques Gallery, 2 December 2020 - 6 February 2021 2021. For more information visit www.alisonjacquesgallery.com
Film screening and virtual talk: the award-winning film The Quiltmakers of Gee’s Bend (2005) directed by Celia Carey, will be screened online in a week-long event from 11-18 January, leading up to a virtual talk with Loretta Pettway Bennett and Mary Margaret Pettway in conversation with Raina Lampkins-Fielder, curator of the Souls Grown Deep foundation on Tuesday 19 January, 6 - 7pm. For further details contact: firstname.lastname@example.org