Jo-Ann Morgan during ArtPrize 2022, at Cornerstone Church, Heritage Hill, Grand Rapids, MI
Jo-Ann Morgan Fiber Art
My machine-quilted, wall hangings address the tragedy of gun violence. I see these stitched fabric pictures as similar to the spontaneous memorials that communities erect after an untimely death. I became aware of this impulse after the death of Trayvon Martin when scores of people created portraits of the young man. And again, after the death of Michael Brown, a tower of flowers and other items was raised on the street in Ferguson, Missouri, at the spot where he was shot by police. At the time of these deaths, I was a university professor with a dual appointment in African American Studies and Art History. Sharing images of these tribute artworks and memorials with my classes became a means of broadening the community of compassion.
During the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd inspired commemorations, part of a national movement we know as Black Lives Matter. Coincidentally, three days after Taylor’s death on March 13, 2020, I bought a sewing machine. The lockdown was just beginning and quilting seemed a perfect choice for making art during trying times. I created a female figure as a focal point and named her Nuestra Dama de la Corona (Lady Corona). Lady Corona wears a crown, gloves, and mask. She is meant to be a comforting presence, not unlike a deity or favorite doll, to offer respite and hope. 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. My first successful piece was a memorial to Taylor. The figure in "Memorial for Breonna Taylor" is at once Lady Corona and Breonna Taylor. The quilted construction is personalized by a flight of birds like those on a tattoo Taylor had over her right shoulder, accompanied by the words "Sometimes you've gotta fall before you can fly."
The murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 revealed how deeply friends and wider communities are impacted by police violence. For my Floyd memorial I made a portrait of his daughter Gianna titled "Daddy Changed the World," words she famously said to presidential candidate Joe Biden. “Witness for the Prosecution” showcases Courtney Ross, long-time girlfriend of George Floyd, who tearfully recalled her relationship with him in testimony at the Derek Chauvin murder trial. More memorials followed. "Elegy for Elijah" is dedicated to Elijah McClain, who died in police custody. Self-taught on the violin, McClain played it for kittens in a pet store to ease their loneliness. “Ahmaud Arbery Memorial Run” envisions a way to celebrate the life of Ahmaud Arbery who was murdered while jogging in Brunswick, Georgia. “An Empty Barber Chair in Monroe, Louisiana” remembers Ronald Greene, a forty-nine-year-old barber from Monroe, Louisiana, beaten to death during a traffic stop by State Police, who later claimed he died as a result of a traffic accident.
Currently I am looking for an appropriate venue to debut my recent work, "In Remembrance- Uvalde," a series of sixteen stitched fabric wall hangings that showcase the nineteen children killed in a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on May 24, 2022. These individualized portraits celebrate the lives of the ten-year-old victims and are meant to evoke our collective outrage.
Because I consider artmaking to be a form of activism, I welcome the opportunity to engage with people of all ages and backgrounds. I enjoy giving gallery talks about my work. As a scholar of African American culture and history, I can also offer more formal talks on a variety of related topics.
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(Below) Jo-Ann Morgan during Embracing Our Differences 2022, Bayfront Park, Sarasota, FL