Textile Society of America
Date of this Version
Textile Narratives & Conversions: Proceedings of the 10th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, October 11–14, Toronto, Ontario
During the fall of 2002, I was a guest instructor at California College of Art and Craft in Oakland, California, and was asked to create a course inspired by my artwork and research. The course I created was titled, “Slavery, Internment and Transcendence,” subtitled "Artists of Color Who Use Historical Memory." The course involved the study of contemporary artists, their artwork and the historical context in which the artwork was inspired and fashioned
Students were taken inside the artist's world, learning to analyze artwork from the perspective of historical memory. By using "sense of place" curriculum, which included an understanding of landscape and power dynamics, students learned the skills necessary to deconstruct the artist and his or her artwork. Armed with a deeper sense of self in society, students were then challenged to tell their own stories within the medium of their choice. My goal was to see if students could use historical memory as a source of inspiration for artwork. I was concerned that my students develop the skill set necessary to understand and use intuitive empathy as a tool for developing their own artwork. They learned to harness an emotional response to a subject and develop a connection between artist and subject. The bond that was created carried over and was felt between artwork and its viewers. Students shared papers and original artwork containing powerful stories from their childhoods, of their communities, and of their cultures deeply rooted in their souls. I believe that the synthesis of historical research and empathetic vision is a powerful tool when developing historical narrative in art. This teaching experience has confirmed for me that awareness of and the ability to use historical memory is central to classroom instruction in studio art.
My theory on this artwork stems from self-study of my own experience as an artist. Armed with an undergraduate degree in Art and Anthropology and a particular interest in the study of one's own culture, I embarked on an adventure, testing my theory that through the sharing of stories in a safe setting one learns to feel the safety to share his or her own story. I really hoped that by embarking on this quest and presenting my own artwork and that of my peers I could make an impression on my students. These were conclusions that I reached after many years of substantial soul-searching. Through my own art experience, I came to understand historical memory and intuitive empathy. Only through deep analysis did I come to understand the value of these two factors as healing tools for the artist and society.
“Historical memory” is the process by which oral histories are used to shed new light on conventional sources and topics. It is the primary tool that these “Artists of Color” use to demonstrate a different historical truth which has previously been omitted, distorted, or reorganized to support individuals, ethnic groups, political parties, and even nations in power.
Copyright 2006 by the author.