Photo: smg photography | Sarah M. Golonka
14 Nov 2022

‘Community Lab: Threads of Connection’ Fosters Social Connections Through Artmaking

14 Nov 2022
A space for community learning inspired by the exhibition ‘The New Bend’ curated by Legacy Russell, Executive Director & Chief Curator of The Kitchen

Coinciding with the traveling exhibition ‘The New Bend,’ curated by Legacy Russell, the gallery presents ‘Community Lab: Threads of Connection.’

The Lab provides opportunities to learn more about the Gee’s Bend quilters through an extensive historical timeline of the Alabama region and a looping documentary provided by Souls Grown Deep that plays firsthand accounts of some of the Gee’s Bend quilters. For those who cannot physically visit the space, please explore the timeline by clicking here and view the Souls Grown Deep documentary below.

‘The New Bend’ travelled from the gallery’s 22nd Street location in New York and will finish its tour at the Somerset gallery once the show closes in Los Angeles at the end of 2022. The ‘Community Lab: Threads of Connection’ will also travel alongside the exhibition to provide further historical context as well as allow new audiences to take part in the quilting project thereby connecting participants overseas through their shared appreciation for art history and craft.

 

Film courtesy of Tinwood Media

‘Textile work is collective work.’—Legacy Russell

Installation view, ‘Community Lab: Threads of Connection,’ Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 27 October – 30 December 2022. Photo: Keith Lubow

Installation view, ‘Community Lab: Threads of Connection,’ Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 27 October – 30 December 2022. Photo: Keith Lubow

The space then extends inspiration from the Alabama community of women quilters in Gee’s Bend. The work created by these female progenitors grew out of necessity, and utility, to generate income to reinvest into their community. Through hands-on artmaking community members can come together in the dedicated Community Lab space and take part in the centuries old tradition that originates from the communal quilting circle, while also exploring quilting as it relates to Black art history as a socio-political practice, and its potential for reimagining community artmaking today. 

The Community Lab invites visitors to abstract and express different modes of cutting stitching, splicing, remixing, and drawing; to create their own fabric squares. Participants are invited to experiment with shapes and markers to make their own unique contributions. Through this collaborative endeavor, the individual squares will explore narratives of visual culture, across localities and generations weaving together stories, sharing knowledge, and empowering each other. The completed squares will be displayed on the clothesline, and during the weekend workshops, visitors are invited to sew them together into one single quilt. 

‘Our Community Lab: Threads of Connection, takes inspiration from the exhibition, The New Bend. The Community Lab initiative aims to foster a positive engagement with our LA audience. This project celebrates the range of visitors to the gallery and invites everyone to contribute to the making of a quilt that will take shape throughout the duration of the exhibition.’—Debbie Hillyerd, Senior Director Learning

Photo: Mario de Lopez

Photo: Mario de Lopez

About Gee’s Bend
The town of Boykin—also known as Gee’s Bend—is an intimate African American community located at the arc of a bend of the Alabama River within Wilcox County, Alabama in the United States. The location was originally named for a landowner and slaveholder of the same surname who in 1816 settled in the area and built a cotton plantation. Many of the residents of the area are descendants of the enslaved people who worked on this plantation; they therefore carry shared family names, such as Bendolph, Pettway, and Young. The formation of the quilting tradition of Gee’s Bend rises out of the 19th and 20th century and carries on to present day where a vibrant network of collective quilters continues to grow and apply their creative practice. In the 1940s, the land of Boykin was sold in plots by the United States government to local families still living in the Bend. In a complex twist, this made it possible for the Black and Native residents of the area—once subject to the extractive labor and economic practices of enslavement and sharecropping—to gain ownership in part over the same land their families had once forcibly worked within. The quilts were originally produced for functional purposes and family use. Over time cooperatives such as The Freedom Quilting Bee (established in 1966 in Rehoboth, Alabama and remaining in operation until 2012) and the Gee’s Bend Quilters Collective (established in 2003) were impactful in shaping an alternative economic model that allowed for the quilters to raise funds for their community. The Freedom Quilting Bee also played a key role in political consciousness-raising, active participants in the drives for voting rights and advocates within the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery. Over time, a dynamic dialogue surrounding their work has expanded to international acclaim and enduring critical resonance. 

Learn more about this history and support Gee’s Bend quilters by visiting www.soulsgrowndeep.org. All proceeds from the exhibition catalogue will support Souls Grown Deep.

The Community Lab is open during the week and participants are welcome to make contributions during gallery hours. Plan a visit to the gallery here.

To take part in a ‘Community Lab: Threads of Connection’ workshop register here.

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