Quilts for Obama: An Exhibit
Celebrating the Inauguration of Our 44th President
Roland L. Freeman, Guest Curator
11 – January 31, 2009
The Historical Society of Washington, D.C.
801 K Street, NW (at Mount Vernon Square); Washington, DC 20001
Gallery Hours: 10 AM-5 PM, Tuesday-Sunday (Closed Inauguration Day, 1/20/09)
In celebration of the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States, the Historical Society of Washington, DC and the Women of Color Quilters Network have developed a special partnership with The Group for Cultural Documentation (TGCD) to create Quilts for Obama: An Exhibit Celebrating the Inauguration of Our 44th President, an exhibition opening Sunday, January 11, 2009, and continuing through January 31, 2009.
The exhibit comprises over 60 interpretive quilts by master quilt makers to celebrate the inauguration, to welcome the Obama family to Washington, and to celebrate their roots and history: forty-four mainly newly made quilts from across the US, one or more from each of four African countries (Kenya, South Africa, Liberia and Ghana), historical quilts from Hawaii and Kansas, and quilts from the Georgetown community of South Carolina (including one made by Mrs. Carrie Nelson, the oldest living member of Michelle Robinson Obama’s family).
Guest curator Roland L. Freeman is a folklorist and photo-documenter whose career began during the Civil Rights movement. For more than 40 years he has been documenting the continuity of traditional African-American cultural practices, and is currently a research associate at the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Freeman has a special passion for quilts and quilt makers, and over the past four decades has crisscrossed the US, being the first to document the world of African-American quilters, culminating in a national tour and book called Communion of the Spirits, published in 1996. He described the genesis of this exhibit as follows:
On November 4th, I was glued to the television watching the election returns, as were millions in this country and around the world. When it was announced that Barack Obama was the President-Elect of the United States, my emotions overwhelmed me. I could hardly speak. Then came the amazing images of worldwide jubilation. My mind drifted back to other seminal events that for me were just as emotionally life-changing: my participation in the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery; the 1963 March on Washington and Dr. King’s “I have a Dream” speech; and my joining the Poor People’s Campaign as a photographer to cover the Mule Train caravan as it traveled from Marks, MS, to Washington, DC.
In my lifetime, I’ve known three black men whose messages of peace, love, and racial harmony profoundly moved the masses: Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama. King said, “We shall overcome;” Nelson Mandela forgave his oppressors; and now Barack Obama has inspired Americans and others around the world to come together for change for a better tomorrow.
I asked myself what I could do to help celebrate this victory and it occurred to me that a commemorative quilt exhibit was just the thing. And so it is. When I sent out a call for quilts, the response was immediate and overwhelming. While my initial idea was for 44 quilts for the 44th President, many more were offered, and this exhibit is the outcome of people’s generosity in stepping forward to join in celebration of Obama’s presidency. The Historical Society of Washington, DC, is the perfect venue to showcase this exhibit, as part of the city’s inaugural celebration activities.