We Will Walk, an Exhibition at Turner Contemporary Gallery, Margate. Spring 2020 (by Maureen Rhodes)
When I heard that some Gee's Bend Quilts were on show for the first time in this country I was determined to see them as I had admired them for many years. The quilts are shown as part of the We Will Walk exhibition, an exhibition of African American artists from the American South from the 1950s to the present day. It shows a mixture of paintings, quilts, music, found materials, yard art, and photos. The emphasis was on how they relate to the Civil Rights Movement during the 50s and 60s, many of the artists being involved in the movement. The title We Will Walk came from the peaceful protest marches, including the one from Selma to Montgomery 1965.
Gee's Bend is a small isolated community in Alabama which lies on a spit of land surrounded by the Alabama River. There was a ferry linking Gee's Bend with the nearest town of Camden but this was removed in the 60s to prevent residents from registering to vote and was not reinstated for 40 years. Many artists have the surname Pettway. This is because plantation owners used to name their slaves after their plantation name.
The quilts were originally made for home use and out of anything to hand but are now collectable items in their own right. The pieces are thoughtfully placed to create improvisational and interesting quilts.
Gee's Bend is now known as Boykin.
'Baby Suggs takes on the slow-paced task of stitching together a quilt. Kneeling in the keeping room where she usually went to talk-think it was clear to see why Baby Suggs was so staved for colour. There wasn't any except for two orange squares in a quilt that made the absence shout … like life in the raw.' Toni Morrison from Beloved 1987