Of Our New Day Begun by Gwen Magee. A blazing sun symbolizes hope. This is one of the works in her series, Lift Every Voice and Sing.
Censoring an artist's work attracts public attention because of the conflicting views between the artist and those who make their own judgement that the public should not view the work. Recently, Joann's Craft and Fabric Stores across the country refused to carry an edition of Quilters Home magazine because it carried an article titled "Shocking Quilts" by Jake Finch (March/April '09) they did not like. Mississippi textile artist, Gwen Magee, was one of the artists whose work was featured in the article.
I met Gwen when we became roommates in grad school more than forty years ago. We were enrolled in a Ph.D. program in Sociology. I became a sociologist and Gwen became an internationally renowned fabric artist. She made her first quilt when her oldest daughter, Kamili who is also my god-daughter, went away to college Then she made another when her youngest daughter, Aliya, joined her sister at Spelman College.
Since then, Gwen Magee's work has evolved from exquisite abstract quilts that you sleep under to fine art where the medium just happens to be fabrics and an assortment of beautiful threads that I didn't know existed until I visited her studio in Jackson, Mississippi. Some of her art look like abstract paintings, like the work above. However, the censored works are her narrative quilts that delve deeply into the most horrific part of our racial history.
Magee has shown her work in museums and galleries in the United States and abroad. Her most gripping and "unsettling" art works are in the series called "Lift Every Voice and Sing," taken from the title of the Negro National Anthem (James Weldon Johnson, 1909). They were featured at her one-person show at the Mississippi Museum of Art in November, 2004. The first two works below were included in the "Shocking Quilts" article.
God of Our Silent Tears: An execution scene addressing the disproportionate percentage of African-Americans given the death penalty and executed. It does not address the question of guilt or innocence, but questions whether or not our system of justice is truly equal for all.
Additional works in the series are shown below. They are equally provocative, stirring up deep feelings about slavery and lynching in America.
Treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered… (Author's note) When I attended the opening of Lift Every Voice and Sing in 2004, this was the piece in the show that I thought overwhelmed many who saw it. It lists the names of individuals who were lynched in the United States from the 1850's to the 1940's. It is also the work that the artist said drained her emotionally and creatively. One can easily understand why.
Bitter the Chastening Rod. The image of a chained woman being cruelly whipped even though her womb is heavy with child graphically illustrates the dehumanization of slaves. (Lift Every Voice and Sing series)