Griots of Cotton, Indigo, & Clay
Traveling Exhibition

Log Cabin Spiral Quilt, Marquetta Johnson

The Griots of Cotton, Indigo, & Clay Fiber Arts and Earth-Based Crafts Traveling Exhibition debuts the permanent collection of the Acres of Ancestry Initiative/Black Agrarian Fund, an evolution of the advocacy efforts of the Black Belt Justice Center. Featuring over 100 pieces of artwork commissioned by Black fiber artists and craftspeople in the South Carolina Lowcountry, the Black Belt South, and the African Diaspora at large, this vast array of textile art portrays the power of the Black imagination to extend beyond colonial frameworks, centering themes of Black agrarianism, ecological stewardship, and material culture. Carrying in its title a deep reverence for cultural knowledge keepers, Griots of Cotton, Indigo, & Clay explores the innovations of ecocultural techniques in appliqué, basket weaving, collage, indigo, and painting, celebrating an ecosystem of over 50 master fiber artists, ceramicists, sweetgrass basketweavers, and blacksmiths—many of them members of the Return of the Bees Quilt Collective. Charged with the mission to raise the visibility of and educate the public about the vast spectrum of Black textile arts and artists, the Return of the Bees Quilt Collective is a community of textile artists who primarily work out of their own homes or artist studios. The Quilt Collective provides its members with mutual aid, digital marketing support, and alternative exhibition spaces to prevailing colonial constructs and arrangements.

BLESSING OF THE ANCESTORS

In the Xhosa culture—Madiba clan, visitation by a swarm of bees is presumed to be a message from the Ancestors who would like the family to do something for them. In the Pedi culture, a swarm of bees in the yard is always taken as a symbol of the Ancestors bringing luck to the family. You then summon the Ancestors accordingly, acknowledge their presence and let them know that you anticipate good wishes or blessings.

​​-Mbulelo Mswazi, South African National Biodiversity Institute

Textile arts is a craft that has roots deeply sewn into the collective memory of the African Diasporan community. The precursor of contemporary African textiles and African American quilts date back to over two thousand years when cotton was grown along the Niger River in Mali and used for woven cloth. African Diasporan material culture thrives, reminding us that these artifacts are an important part of our heritage. Honoring the ancient, communal traditions of storytelling and call and response, Griots of Cotton, Indigo, & Clay weaves together the 25-year struggle of Black legacy farmers in their efforts to secure debt cancellation and the return of their farmlands from the U.S. Department of Agriculture with the ignited determination of Black fiber artists and craftspeople to chart a liberatory route in artist and community sovereignty.

Curated by Torreah “Cookie” Washington, fourth-generation needle worker, fiber artist, and independent curator living in Goose Creek, SC, the inaugural exhibition was held at the Charleston City Gallery at Waterfront Park from January 18th, 2022 through February 28th, 2022. The exhibition was sponsored by Estelle Colored Glass, Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, Lady Farmer, Kalliopeia Foundation, Nathan Cummings Foundation, National Museum of Women in the Arts, and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. Community festivities for the premiere weekend included an Artist Opening Reception at Charleston City Gallery at Waterfront Park, an Artist Appreciation Dinner at The Magnolia Hall in Charleston, SC, a community tour of the historic Seashore Farmers Lodge in the Sol Legare Community on James Island, SC, and a Community Quilting Bee for Social Justice at the McLeod Plantation Historic Site on James Island, SC.

The Acres of Ancestry Initiative/Black Agrarian Fund and the Return of the Bees Quilt Collective aim to multiply abundance through the dynamism of matriarchal governance, creative kinship, rural folkwit, and cooperative economy. For inquiries regarding hosting the Griots of Cotton, Indigo, & Clay Traveling Exhibition, please contact Tracy Lloyd McCurty, Esq., Executive Director of the Black Belt Justice Center and Co-Alchemist of the Acres of Ancestry Initiative/Black Agrarian Fund, at tmccurty@blackbeltjustice.org.

REFLECTIONS ON GRIOTS OF COTTON, INDIGO, & CLAY

I believe my purpose as an artist is to be a Wayshower. The Wayshower is someone, who challenges the status quo, who bravely and boldly paves a new perspective, who enlightens and uplifts, and encourages action. I want to make art that challenges people to feel, to learn, to make art that makes one soar and annoys, art that challenges the viewing public to learn more about the subject and their own feelings about it. I have a fire in the belly, a passionate urge to create art that is griot in nature. I want the viewer to come away changed after having experienced my work. I am not at all interested in creating art that matches your furniture.

-Cookie Washington, Fiber Artist and Lead Coordinator for the Return of the Bees Quilt Collective

In the summer of 1992, living with Nigerian craftsmen who created art honoring ancestry through work derived from nature, forever changed my focus as an artist. In 1994, I moved to South Carolina and immersed myself with the creatives of the Lowcountry. I am now living on sacred fertile land on Wadmalaw Island. I have committed to growing indigo, sweetgrass, and other indigenous vegetation to sustain healing and art.

-Arianne King Comer, Indigo Artist and Member of the Return of the Bees Quilt Collective

African Diasporic cosmologies and lifeways are rooted in a deep reverence for the Earth and our collective responsibility to her. Our Ancestors understood this responsibility and passed these spiritual practices, ecocultural traditions, and agrarian knowledges through family lineage and collective memory. Our exhibition exalts Black farmers and craftspeople as Wayshowers out of climate catastrophe, racial injustice, and hyper-capitalistic plunder. Through the preservation of fiber arts and agrarian material culture, we return to our highest spiritual selves.

-Tracy Lloyd McCurty (Nile Sirius Asantewaa), Executive Director of the Black Belt Justice Center and Co-Alchemist of the Acres of Ancestry Initiative/Black Agrarian Fund

The practice of quiltmaking offers a roadmap in our quest for freedom and intergenerational connection. Quilts allow us to reach back to the past in a way that transcends time and the physical loss of death. There is something ethereal about this connection, in that quilting has the power to answer questions about the lives that our ancestors lived.

-Danielle Mason, Cultural Preservationist, Writer, and Founder of Ancient Mother’s Wisdom

GRIOTS OF COTTON, INDIGO, & CLAY WAYSHOWERS

 

GRIOTS OF COTTON, INDIGO, & CLAY CULTURAL PRESERVATIONIST

QUILTING BEE FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE AT MCLEOD PLANTATION HISTORIC SITE

(JAMES ISLAND, SC)

COMMUNITY TOUR OF THE HISTORIC SEASHORE FARMERS LODGE

(SOL LEGARE COMMUNITY ON JAMES ISLAND, SC)

INAUGURAL ARTISTS’ DINNER AT THE MAGNOLIA HALL

(CHARLESTON, SC)

©Acres of Ancestry Initiative/Black Agrarian Fund ©Cedar Wolf Media 
   Photo credit: Joshua Parks for Cedar Wolf Media

Engage

The Cuban agroecologist Fernando Funes Monzote shared, "you make the path by walking."  

Engage with our tribe on social media as we make our path toward collective liberation through the preservation of Black agrarian custodial landownership, ecological stewardship, and food and fiber economies in the South.