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Jo-Ann Morgan

Visual artist Jo-Ann Morgan is Professor Emeritus of African American Studies and Art History at Western Illinois University

                  Artist's Statement

In March 2020, as stay-at-home orders were being initiated because of the spreading coronavirus, I bought a sewing machine and began working in a new medium: sewing quilted pictures. I thought about quilts as comforters, much needed at the time, and developed a series called "Nuestra Dama de la Corona" (or, "Lady Corona"). This comforting figure, not unlike a deity or favorite doll, is flanked by 19 roses or other flowers (symbolic of COVID-19). She wears gloves, a face mask, a small crown, and has a youthful figure. 

I use a quilting and applique’ technique to create pictures meant to be displayed as wall-hangings in sizes ranging from 33” to 54” in either direction. The series features Lady Corona present at contemporary scenes and within scenarios of significance. 

"Memorial for Breonna Taylor" is a response to Black Lives Matter demonstrations following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Taylor had been asleep in her bed when police broke in and shot her. This figure is at once Lady Corona and Breonna Taylor. The quilted construction is personalized by a flight of birds, much like those on a tattoo Taylor had over her right shoulder, accompanied by the words "Sometimes you've gotta fall before you can fly." 

"Pledge Allegiance: Memorial for John R. Lewis" finds Lady Corona taking a political stance in tribute to the life and work of Congressman John R. Lewis. At the time of Congressman Lewis’s passing, the ongoing Black Lives Matter demonstrations transitioned into memorials for Lewis. This piece is inspired by candle-lit vigils on the streets of Washington DC in proximity to Black Lives Matter Plaza.

In “Lady Corona and the Wall of Moms” Lady Corona joins in solidarity with a group of women who convened in Portland, Oregon to stand between protestors and the unidentifiable law enforcement personnel who were grabbing the protestors and taking them off in vans. The moms wore yellow t-shirts. Some had brought yellow sunflowers, which they placed on car windows or other spots. 

“Justice for All: Memorial for Ruth Bader Ginsburg” pays tribute to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Lady Corona stands with two couples at the spontaneous memorial that coalesced on the DC Mall the evening of her passing.

“Lady Corona Comforts the Children” places the comforting figure at the southern border during the infamous “kids in cages” outrage of the Trump administration. Again, in “Reunion,” she exalts as a father and his son are reunited following months of separation.

“Lain in Honor” responds to the white supremacist insurrection of January 6, 2021 with a tribute to Police Officer Brian Sicknick who was Lain in Honor at the US Capitol. A few weeks later, Capitol Policeman William “Billy” Evans was similarly honored.     

After her father George Floyd was murdered, his daughter Gianna told then presidential candidate Joe Biden “Daddy changed the world." These words are the title of an artwork featuring the child that includes Lady Corona represented as a Barbie-type doll echoing the child's gesture.

“Witness for the Prosecution” showcases Courtney Ross, long-time girlfriend of George Floyd, who tearfully recalled their relationship in testimony at the Derek Chauvin murder trial. She is comforted by her twelve-year-old son and by Toshira Garraway (as Lady Corona) whose fiancé Justin Teigen was killed by Minneapolis police years before. The murder of George Floyd revealed how much friends and wider communities are impacted by police violence.

I continue to produce work related to social justice reform. Several of these recent works have been included in group exhibitions and I am presently searching for venues where I can show them all together. Because the nature of this medium is familiar, comforting, traditional, it allows me to make strong, even provocative, statements in an approachable way. 

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