The art of quilting, the painstaking process of collaging and stitching layers of fabric together, has long been associated with so-called women’s work. Though originally born out of necessity, the craft has now built a vast archival history that supersedes its relationship with objects of utility, comfort, and warmth.
For African Americans, the practice of quilting not only preserves memory through the use of repurposed fabrics, but also plays a vital role in protest, as artists have used—and continue to use—the medium to assert their voice to claim identity, tackle racism, and confront sexism. Practitioners of textile arts fuse material and message in expressions of freedom and liberation. This contemporary application of the craft has its historical antecedents in the American South. As a tool used for clandestine communication, quilts contained secret symbols that guided the enslaved to freedom through the Underground Railroad.