Regarded as the leading authority on African-American quilts and quiltmaking, Carolyn Mazloomi has fostered and promoted the perpetuation of this traditional art form through her organization the Women of Color Quilter's Network (WCQN). Practicing preservation, documentation, exhibition, and advocacy, Mazloomi is the 2014 recipient of the Bess Lomax Hawes Fellowship, named after the NEA director of folk and traditional arts who initiated the National Heritage Fellowships.
In 1985, Mazloomi founded the Women of Color Quilter’s Network (WCQN), which provides its 1,700 members with presentations, venues for sharing technical information, grant writing, and other services. Through the WCQN, and the exhibitions that she has organized, Mazloomi has provided African-American quilters opportunities to show their art in the United States and abroad. In addition, WCQN is an important resource for research into African-American quiltmaking and supports educational projects and workshops designed to have a social and economic impact for audiences of all ages, income levels, ethnic background, and learning abilities. The organization has been recognized by the International Labour Department in Geneva and the United Nations for its developmental programs to help advance women.
An avid quiltmaker herself, Mazloomi's quilts have been exhibited extensively in venues such as the Mint Museum, American Folk Art Museum in New York City, National Civil Rights Museum, Museum of Art and Design, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum, and the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. Her quilts often reference African-American life and history as well as African ancestry, and she was one of six artists commissioned to create artwork for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 2003 she received the first Ohio Heritage Fellowship Award.
In order to provide insight into the narrative work of contemporary African-American quilters, in 1998 Mazloomi published Spirits of the Cloth: Contemporary African American Quilts, which won the 1999 Black Caucus of the American Library Association Literary Award for Best Nonfiction book. In 2004, in collaboration with curator Patricia Pongracz, she published Threads of Faith: Recent Works from the Women of Color Quilters Network.
Among the many exhibitions she has curated is Still We Rise: Race, Culture and Visual Conversations, which is currently at the Underground Railroad Freedom Center Museum. This visual survey of 400 years of African American history is the largest travel exhibit of African American quilts ever mounted and will travel for four years. In summer 2014, Mazloomi co-curated Conscience of the Human Spirit: The Life of Nelson Mandela, an exhibition of quilts by American and South African artists inspired by the life and work of Nelson Mandela. The exhibition will open in Johannesburg, South Africa and then tour the United States for two years.
Photos by Samantha Grier
Carolyn Mazloomi shines a powerful light on the African-American community through narrative quilts.