For immediate release:
Announcing an opening of a new exhibition:
April 28th: 5:30 - 8 PM
Philadelphia Folklore Project
735 S. 50th St., Philadelphia, PA 19143
Free and open to the public
(April 15, 2006). Remarkable stories lie behind the textile works made by twenty Philadelphia-area artists featured in the "Community Fabric" exhibition at the Philadelphia Folklore Project opening on April 28th. Many participating artists have continued to work in particular folk and traditional art forms - including local and ethnic weaving, batik, embroidery and more - despite daunting challenges: war and repression, silencing and opposition, personal loss and economic hardship, and the difficulties of mastering hand-made minority and alternative traditions when older mentors are gone and knowledge seemingly lost. Some artists have been able to do their work because of community support; still others have had to single-mindedly pursue their own paths, painstakingly researching specific family or regional craft traditions, or developing their own approaches to mediums to which they are drawn. And for yet others, work has been a place for pleasure, and creative expression. The small gallery contains only 30 works, yet suggests lifetimes of effort and dedication. Community Fabric opens with a celebration (all are welcome) on April 28th from 5:30 PM - 8 PM. It runs through September at the Folklore Project's new home, 735 S. 50th Street. The Folklore Project is open first Saturdays (10 AM - 1 PM) and by appointment.
For a small show, "Community Fabric" is remarkably diverse. Artists are American-born and immigrant, from the West Philadelphia neighborhood where the Folklore Project is now located and from greater Philadelphia. Some were born into craft traditions and ritual responsibilities. Some have spent lifetimes working to develop their knowledge of particular folk and traditional arts. Still others are relatively new to the forms, using elements of cultural traditions to which they are attracted. Artists describe themselves in many ways: as community-trained, self-taught, school-trained, and spirit-directed. Some artists have been in many exhibitions before. For others, this is their first show. The range of kinds of work (and artists) represented is intentional. "For our first open show in our new building, we have included everyone who entered," Folklore Project Director Debora Kodish said. "We always work to encourage participation of grassroots traditional artists who rarely respond to "calls,' or show their work in exhibitions, and who rarely get to share their own perspectives on their work. In bringing many different artists together, and including everyone, we aim to encourage conversations about what it means to claim (and reject) "tradition."Participating artists are Karen Applegate, Yekini Atanda, Pau Pau Awuklu, Laura Cohn, Sheryl Robin David, Blanche Epps, Ayoluwa Eternity, Jerushia Graham, Cassandra Stancil Gunkel, Naomi Gunkel, Christina Johnson, Jody Kolodzey, Betty Leacraft, Rose Miller, Vera Nakonechny, Ayesha Rahim, Sophie Sanders, Pang Xiong Sirirathasuk Sikoun, Bertha Waters, and Chamroeun Yin.
Vera Nakonechny (Ukrainian weaving) and Chamroeun Yin (Cambodian beadwork) have painstakingly reconstructed specific "lost" ethnic and regional craft traditions, once forbidden under repressive political regimes. Responding to decades of war and ethnic conflict, Yekini Atanda (Nigerian batik) makes trips home to produce work. Pau Pau Awuklu (Togolese batik), in contrast, makes batik in his West Philadelphia apartment, sending funds back home to address local needs. And Hmong artist Pang Xiong Sirirathasuk Sikoun has now produced paj ndaub (story cloths, trade forms encouraged in Hmong refugee camps) here for more than 30 years, with the help of extended kin networks here and in Laos and Thailand. All are active participants in global exchanges of art; these local artists have complex connections to their homelands and communities in diaspora. Still other participants are connected to overseas communities, and systems of exchange, in places to which they sometimes came initially by accident, or as visitors. In their travels, Laura Cohen (batik) and Jody Kolodzey (knitting) found learning local craft traditions ways to connect to local people in Indonesia and Ireland. Each transformed her own work (and perhaps, herself) in the process.
Active local communities of mutual support are also traced in the show. Cassandra Stancil Gunkel became a quilter while researching the African American quilting heritage within her own family. She is represented in the exhibition by her own work and because of the work of women in local African American quilting groups (Christina Johnson and Rose Miller), family, and 4-H (Naomi Gunkel and Karen Applegate) whose participation she encouraged - ;reflecting the circles of connection, community and friendship created by these women, equal in importance to the quilts and arts projects produced.
Reclaiming African American history, their own families' ethics and backgrounds, and specific African and African Diaspora craft traditions provide points of departure (and ways of locating themselves) for many participating artists, including Betty Leacraft and Jerushia Graham (each showing works relating to a grandmother), Sophie Sanders (textured fabric relief), and Ayoluwa Eternity (bottle dolls).
Some of the traditions represented in the exhibition are perhaps best seen as habits of everyday life, rather than as matters of technique. The folk arts and ethic of "making something from nothing," the arts of necessity and self-reliance referenced by many of these artists as hallmarks of their parents' and grandparents' worldview (and a valued heritage, which they seek to embrace), are represented in the exhibition by a crocheted skirt by Bertha Waters, and the faceless dolls of Blanche Epps. Sheryl Robin David and Ayesha Rahim are among the artists who describe their work as a kind of spiritual practice, a way of working in which their hands seem to follow their own path. Each tells similar stories of finding her own way of creating complex crocheted pieces, and of needing to learn to resist well-intentioned offers to teach them the "right" way.
In temporarily housing work by several West Philadelphians little known to one another - ; Christina Johnson (quilts), Blanche Epps and Ayoluwa Eternity (dolls), Pau Pau Awuklu (batiks), and Jody Kolodzey (knitting) - ;and in bringing together diverse artists from around the greater Philadelphia area - ;the Folklore Project continues its own effort to build mutual support around sustaining alternative traditions.
"In different ways," Kodish says, "each new Folklore Project effort builds on the last. When we began thinking about an exhibition on fabric and textile traditions, I knew that we wanted to include the hats (people call them "crowns') of Ayesha Rahim. I knew her work by sight: admired it in contexts like ODUNDE, community festivals, Saturday grocery shopping at Reading Terminal Market. Her crowns are so beautiful, distinctive, and always so suited to their wearers, that I would find myself asking total strangers, "Is that one of Ayesha Rahim's hats?' Artists and cultural workers who have been involved with PFP over the years wear her hats, and indeed, collect them: Dottie Wilkie of Kulu Mele African American Dance Ensemble, Omomola Iyabunmi of Nanikha, Charita Powel of Amazulu. It seemed to me that Ayesha's work was actively, visibly, on display in the community already. Her work spoke to the theme of community fabric because it has been so embraced by a community of people: her aesthetics and artistry so prized. We clearly ought to represent this community perspective in this next exhibition. As it turns out, we had documented the significance of her work already. Our last exhibition was of Tom Morton's photographs of ODUNDE, taken over 30 years - ;and I learned that some of Ayesha's crowns were shown in the photos, worn by numerous people, including Bob Thompson, now passed, who officiated at many years of ODUNDE. He is shown balancing an offering to Yoruba deity Osun on his head, and he is wearing one of Ayesha's crowns. I can't help but appreciate the way that one exhibition here at PFP can provide unexpected learnings, and lead into another. We look forward to what "Community Fabric' will teach us, and to where it will take us next. "
"Community Fabric"" will be on display at the Philadelphia Folklore Project office, 735 S. 50th Street (2 short blocks south of the 34 trolley on Baltimore Avenue and 50th, by the Firehouse Farmer's Market) through September. Hours are first Saturdays (10 AM - 1 PM) and by appointment. For more information: 215.726.1106.
"Community Fabric" occurs with the help of Carla Bednar, Cassandra Stancil Gunkel, and Amy Skillman. The exhibition was installed by Kim Tieger and Charles Adams. It occurs thanks to the support of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and the Philadelphia Cultural Fund. The Philadelphia Folklore Project is a 19-year-old public interest folklife organization committed to sustaining the alternative and progressive folk and traditional arts of our communities. For more information call 215.726.1106.
Download high-resolution image (pictured above) of Village truck, by West Philadelphia batik artist Paupau Awuklu, from Togo.