Social Fabric

Detail of Rita Keegan’s Social Fabric

At the heart of Somewhere Between, There and Here, is the mixed-media installation Trophies Revisited, which remixes the work Cycles (1992) presented initially at the Bluecoat, Liverpool, as part of Trophies of Empire curated by Keith Piper. Rita’s reimagining includes a Social Fabric, a patchwork train made of patches contributed. This collectively crafted textile makes material the many threads of Rita’s kinship relations while also calling for more collective understandings of art-making and social modelling. The process of making the work reflects on the power and resilience held in our creatives communities globally as well as the nature of togetherness held in Rita’s home while making the work during a pandemic.  Social Fabric was led by Lauren Craig who is a co-curator at the Rita Keegan Archive Project.

Due to the interconnected and collaborative way we work at RKAP, it is hard to know which idea is yours; in many ways, it is not important as everyone will work on the idea somehow. In saying that, I know there was a desire from both Rita and Gina Nembhard to bring people closer and into the work process. I think that is where the patchwork idea started; something about the idea touched me, making a knot with another social fabric of my past. Although not part of the original plan, I wanted to grow the concept to weave a way through the communal lens of Rita’s practice. I began to look at the collecting of the patches as a social fabrication, making an emotional structure of security. In some ways, the acts of collecting and collating the small windows onto the makers concerns are no different to Rita collecting artists works and ephemera for archival purposes and curating an exhibition to platform other artists. No different to quilts of deep south African American people that held escape routes to freedom and one of the same with stitched memory of the conceptual costuming made with patches of history. I think in this instance, the Covid constraints made a postal project the perfect mode of delivery. In addition to the whole world getting crafty, the project quickly moved from our team (who had formed a bubble) and Rita’s close friends from Bonnington Square to London wide and then global. We began to invite artists Rita had worked with in various capacities; we quickly became overwhelmed and had to stop at 27 contributions.

The response has been so unexpectedly powerful that we plan at least a round two to fulfil our promises and cast a wider net. What I did not expect from the project was its ability to keep the team tethered. Due to pandemic induced displacement, we found ourselves distanced between London, Scotland, Italy and America. With the exhibition on a loop of postponement, the patches trickling through the post were a source of upliftment, exciting to see what each patch would bring visually, and their stories would keep us talking and intrigued to know more. It felt as though our little pocket of creativity had spread out a cosy comforter of prosperity and that this ability to secure threads meant we could interdepend. Without sounding too lockdown cheese on toast, it felt that this ability to interact and build something was a metaphor for our ability to overcome the destruction the pandemic had caused. Together we had made rope to anchor and moor a sustainable new start. Something unplanned but needed something we made for Rita and others that had surprisingly been for us.

Contributors

1.

Ego Ahaiwe Sowinski, she/her/hers/Ego

Untitled

My patchwork represents a number of themes that I would discuss with Rita, the birds represent migration – UK to US, US to UK. The material is a nod to my mother, my Nigerian heritage and buying material for Rita and talking about sewing and making patterns. 

2.

Ajamu

Untitled 

To Rita, from one of Ajamu’s boys [XXXX]. 

3. 

Raelene E. Ash

Biscuits 

Art has always been a part of my life. In grade school I learned to draw the human figure.  And all through my schooling I began to master my art with oil painting, small murals and still life sketchings. I was very fortunate to have job positions that I got to do arts and crafts, going to a host of community networking. I’ve worked with parenting groups, young teen mothers, recruiting high school students for Technology College courses. I worked as an  Advocate for families and homeless families. Cooks for daycare’s, and an  Art Instructor for children K – 12th grade.  As years passed I became a mother of two,married and a grandmother. But in every life things change for a reason. In 2005 I became ill. and had surgeries back to back that caused my health to fail. I had to have a surgery that saved my life. I was homeless. I started painting on Brown Paper bags. I painted stories of poverty, and struggles of  African  American Women.  Today I have a collection of prints and note cards that include the original Classic Bagg Ladies and Freedom Road Stories. My health continues to be a challenge.  “I’m still on my journey to my freedom.”

4.

Charlie & Kate Boxer

Our patch is a poem called

The sleeping peach’s dream 

A cleft

    A stalk

        A stone

5. 

Pat Brown, 82 years, widow. 

The Carousel 

6. 

Sayge Carroll was born and raised in Minneapolis MN. She spent a brief time in DC attending Howard University. She moved back to the twin cities in 2007 and resides with her son Morgan and dog Wolfy. As an artist she has leveraged her skills to secure several residencies, given lectures, curated shows, received grants and offered consultation services around inclusion and incorporating our rich cultural diversity into organizations and the city of Minneapolis. She has worked in arts education for over 2 decades building community and creating art at Juxtaposition Arts, Walker Art Center, Phillips East, Youth link and Little Earth to name a few. Carroll founded the Women of Color Artist Gathering, Art Church, and co-founded Cross County Arts. She is passionate about art as life practice and an approach to community engagement in a sustainable and inclusive way.

Home

This quilt square is a piece of memory. It’s a placeholder for my trip to Scotland with the knitting,  Paris is the plaid shirt, my summer dress worn while spinning cotton into yarn for knitting during the pandemic. This quilt square holds my journey for the last 5 years.  

7.

Catherine Grant, b. 1975, she/her

Untitled 

Material from my scrap bag, remnants of clothing altered, re-sized, repaired. Silk from my mum, made into a comforter for my son, the offcut used by him for his experiments with the sewing machine. An abstract collage in honour of Rita’s glamour and style, memories of outfits and experiences over many years. 

8.

Althea Greenan, Curator, the Women’s Art Library at Goldsmiths 

Bitches Brew Archive Vibes

Rita in the archives glitters as the all-seeing mischief maker.  She is at the centre of drawing in the stories and laughing with the dead whose elegance outshines us. How can I resist this fabric of sugar skulls?  I dress her up with beads and jewellery findings inherited from my cousin this past calamitous summer. I channel both their skills hilariously with my clumsy stitching, and pay tributes to her as I pay tributes to Rita and the alchemy of archive making.  I sew brass archive paper clips for good voodoo luck for my work struggles with the Archive. Give me strength! Give me a reason! And Rita laughs to remind me:  colour, copy, frame, tell, listen, work together the social fabric that makes the grey boxes and acid-free folders open and dazzle. 

9. 

Michelle Williams Gamaker, b. 1979

Untitled

This patch of fabric is from my latest film The Bang Straws (2021). My protagonist O-Lan, wears this fabric as a headscarf – she is a farmer’s wife – but also in my film, facing and overcoming the structural violence of a film set based on the historic structural violence of British and Hollywood 20th century film studios.  

10.

Joy Gregory, she/her

Good Hair, Bad Hair, Nothing About Day…

My patch is a nod to the Look of Colour Chat which I made for the Blonde in 1998. For a least 20 years – as long as I can remember, I’ve worn my hair in braids or twists. Mainly for convenience and definitely to protect it. Every time I take them out, I’m left with a ton of dead hair. Recently I’ve been collecting this material which I have used to make this piece. 

Black hair is never neutral. It cannot ever be something which just sits on your head. However you wear it, black hair is political. When I grew up you had good hair (long, strong, easy to handle – usually with shades of mixed ancestry). Or bad hair (tight, short, curly and fragile), any stubbornness was literally burned away with a hot comb to make it more ‘presentable’. 

11.

Anna Harding, b. 1961, she/her

Untitled

I’m sew out of touch with stitching. I grew up immersed in making, my grandma trained as a milliner and made flower decorations for hats although she really wanted to go to art school, aunt Beat sewed such fine garments on her treadle Singer sewing machine that it must have ruined her eyesight. My mother raided Aquascutum fabric sales and made fine tweed coats for my son Edwin, I have bolts of her fabric still waiting for a project. My earliest creations included a patchwork pinafore dress, Fairisle leg warmers and a rainbow mohair jumper.  Thanks Rita for giving my drawers of fabric an airing. 

12.

Hiroko Hagiwara, b. 1951

Untitled

Sewn onto a A4 sheet of cloth are fragments of things I have made, used or worn. For example, a handkerchief I dyed as a teenager with a floral pattern, and a pair of Pakistani trousers I commissioned a Bengali tailor in the Whitechapel district, both cut to stamp size. A Margaret scarf made from Philippine pineapple cloth is a rare feminine item for me, as my wardrobe is full of boyish fashions. The indigo-dyed cloth from West Africa was cut from a bedspread I used with my friend at Upper Wimpole. The Indian printed floral cloth was a tablecloth on which I wrote books over the decades. These pieces of cloth have seen where and how I have lived and moved on. They have come to me from Okinawa, Kamakura, London, Mindanao, Dhaka, Accra and elsewhere on this planet. 

13.

Zhi Holloway, artist / entrepreneur

Life Affirmative 

Whether it’s affirmations and the multitude of colours of culture, thrust into the furnace of life!

Silk and paints / silkscreen / pineapple plastic. 

14.

Terry Humphrey

Feet’s don’t fail me now

Well, it must have been around 2019 when I came across this Wax Block Print remnant fabric outside a store in Brixton Market. At the time I had this urge to paint my living room a deep red, which I did, on reflection I was possibly bedding in for a Lockdown. After rummaging through a pile of fabrics I was struck by the sweet and folk like illustrations of paired Slippers along with the red and black patterned background. I purchased the 2 half metre pieces and used them as arm covers on my sofa, it created an instant warmth in the room, I guess I’m one of many friends who over the years has experienced the warmth of Rita and her home ..put simply this pair of Slippers represent a source of comfort. Just like Rita!

In conversations with Rita we often communicate by song lyrics so I felt it appropriate to graffiti the patch with ‘Feet’s don’t fail me now’ really I’m just wishing Rita the very best and to

‘keep on Keeping on’ Damn here I go again…I’m out.

15. 

Bhajan Hunjan 

Love

Love, inkjet of monoprint, drawing and embroidery on calico.

Love transcends all emotions – it’s a state of being. 

Bhajan Hunjan is a visual artist who also works as an artist educator creating temporary and permanent installations in community and school settings. 

16.

Symrath Kaur Patti, b. 1961

Untitled

This image is from the ‘Keepin’ it Together’ catalogue. The text is what I have added to the image that was part of the catalogue, and is now in the WOCI archive at the Women’s Art Library. 

17. 

Amoke Kubat b.1950, is a multi-disciplinary artist, curious about the self, the natural world and the Scared. Self-taught, she uses writing and art-making to define and hold a position of wellness in America – sick with inequalities and inequities. Her writings include her memoir, ‘Missing Mama: My Story of Loss, Wellness and Healing’, the plays ANGRY OLD BLACK WOMAN & Well-Intentioned White Girl’ and ‘Old Good Pussy and Good Old Pussy’. Amoke is the creator of YO MAMA LLC that offers’ Art of Mothering Workshops and YO MAMA’s House Co-operative, a shared (non-residential) space for mothers who are artists, community activists and healers.

Once Water (photo, fabric, sharpies)

I am aging in these interesting times of COVID and global unrest. My mind returns to places where I found comfort, solace and sanctuary.  Water, I loved playing in water. The best water comes in a greedy slurp from the garden hose on a hot summer day.  My happiest place was the Southern California Pacific Ocean. All was well walking this shifting hot sand, crunchy with shells. Or feeling the cool swirl of salt water and its tickle of sea foam around my ankles.  

In 2020, my mind returned to these spaces. I felt the warmth of an August sun, tasted the salt, floated on waves big and small. My mind emptied and my body released. I was gently reminded to “go with the flow of the water” and its possibilities. Return to the womb of all existence. Be safe. Be protected. Be well.  I was Once Water too. 

18.

Samia Malik, b. 1980. 

Thank you Rita Keegan for WOCI

My patch is a thank you message to Rita Keegan for WOCI (Women of Colour Index). In 2016, alongside artists and educators Michelle Williams Gamaker and Rehana Zaman, we found WOCI reading group that set out to make visible histories of women of colour artists collated by Rita Keegan. 

19.

Ruth E Morgan

Untitled

Layers of time – pieced together.

References to friendship with Rita. Swiss spot. Own screen print. 

20. 

Virginia Nimarkoh, artist / social entrepreneur.

Untitled

African print, Brixton market, cotton. 

21. 

Professor Georgina Obaya Evans, she/her

Untitled

Materials: African wax print, lace, ribbons, beads, cowrie shells, feathers.

This piece is a homage to women and women’s actions in maintaining social cohesion (often in the face of oppression and gender violence) with their (our) being, work, care, activism, community, creative technologies, and creations of beauty.  My piece also speaks of my dual African (Nigerian) and British (Welsh) heritage. My mum’s father was a tailor, my mum was a seamstress and she taught all her daughters to sew. The lace was handcrafted by women on my father’s side – women I never knew. The HIV ribbons are offered in remembrance of the warrior women I met in Rwanda.

I love sewing and I know Rita is a brilliant seamstress.  As well as us being artists, this connects us and the many people Rita brings together. I chose the wax fabric of this piece in Rwanda while volunteering during the summer of 2009. I was there offering yoga classes to support the wellbeing of women survivors of gender violence, many of whom contracted HIV as a result: http://www.we-actx.org/about-us/ The Rwandan women made me a dress from this fabric which I wore to Rita’s annual birthday party the following year, (2010). I had the most fabulous fun reconnecting with everyone after missing the celebratory gathering the year before. Rita’s summer party feels like a sparkling celebration of life, creativity, friendship, and joy.  

22. 

Elizabeth Oniri, mixed-media artist/educator based in Peckham. 

Are We? 

I am acknowledging that we are all human and that race is a human/ social construct. I also acknowledge that as humans we originate from similar forms of biological DNA. As individuals we are intrinsically different and unique, while making that statement, my response to that is a question, that question is the title of my patch…Are We?

23. 

Ingrid Pollard and Olive Pollard

Untitled

This fabric came from a dress my mother wore a lot. It was the only dress I kept from my mother’s wardrobe when she died. The patchwork will be a way for her to live on in a different way. A new memory. 

24. 

Raju Sachi Singh, they/them

Untitled

My mother’s curtains.

25. 

Jacqueline Wright, b.1965, she/her

Untitled

In the colour of the patch is the colourful world and how it can be, the beads are rain drops, the sequins are snowflakes, the heart beads are how much I love doing crafts, the numbers are the many different crafts to do, the blanket stitch is to cover the edges of the fabric, the patch was a time to relax and to express my ideas, I enjoyed working on it. 

26. 

Keegan Xavi, she/her, is a  visual  artist,  passionate  about  Art History  with  an  insatiable  desire  for  research and  learning.  Her  personal  work  addresses  the  emotionally brutal  realities  of  American  History and  its  impact  on  the  present  and  future  –  with  a recurring,  broader  theme  about  the  human intersection  between  nature  and  technology.  Art  is a  vital  tool  for  connection  and  resiliency  and she  uses  her  strengths  as  an Arts  Educator  to  produce community  events  that  unite  Minneapolis neighbors  through  creative  action.

Landscape 

When  the  lockdowns  first  started  in  March  2020,  all my  energy  went  into  figuring  out  how  to protect  my  family.  I  taught  myself  how  to  hand  sew face  masks  and  everyone  around  me  got one  whether  they  wanted  it  or  not.  Living  with  a  family of  artists  there’s  always  an  abundance  of art  supplies  left  over  from  other  projects.  I  found a  bag  of  someone’s  old  quilting  supplies  and used  the  fabric  I  found.  But  I  started  to  crave  fabrics that  I  was  genuinely  attracted  to  and  picked up  a  bad  fabric  habit  during  the  pandemic,  ordering left  and  right.  Oh  but  the  colors!  As  a collage  artist,  I  have  a  love  for  paper.  Thin,  thick, old,  glossy,  magazines,  newspapers,  etc.  But now… I’m  in  love  with  fabric  and  particularly  drawn to  ankara  fabric,  batik  and  prints  of  fruits  and flowers  (we  won’t  even  talk  about  the  gardening  addiction I  picked  up  in  2020  as  well).  So  when asked  to  create  a  patch  for  the  Social  Fabric  project, I  used  the  scraps  from  all  the  facemasks  I made,  and  I  had  made  like  50  of  them  at  that  point (I’m  up  to  200  or  so  now).  Color  elicits feeling and  I  used  fabric  to  create  a  landscape  of what  safety  feels  like  for  me.  Velvet  violet  sky, a  warm  nurturing  abode  nestled  underneath  an  unfathomable universe  and  billions  of  stars. 

Wet Paint 

For  this  project  I  made  two  patches.  The  first  I  just called  Landscape  and  used  the  fabric scraps  leftover  from  all  the  facemasks  I  taught  myself to  make  in  2020.  The  first  patch  was  more sculpted,  structured.  I  used  a  whole  different  part of  my  brain  for  this  second  patch  and  treated the  fabric  the  way  I  would  paper  when  I  make  collages. They  say  collage  is  “the  poor  man’s paint”…  but  I  didn’t  stop  to  think  you  could  paint with  fabric  as  well.  And  that’s  what  this  piece is…  a  kaleidoscope  of  all  the  prettiest  parts  of  the fabric  without  need  for  form  or  explanation. The  process  of  not-thinking  as  I  pieced  the  fabric together  was  beyond  therapeutic.  Color  makes me happy.  Celebrating  color  with  this  patch  brought me  joy. 

27. 

Rehana Zaman, b. 1982, she/her

ghilaf

The fabric comes from the ‘ghilaf’ or sleeve I wrapped my Quran and religious books in when going to the mosque as a child. I’ve kept it all these years but never was able to find a good use for it – nor could I throw it away. The metallic tape was gifted to me from a student and the word ‘slow’ is a daily reminder – How can I embody slowness better?