Modern Quilt

The Visual Arts Center of Richmond’s newest contemporary exhibition, and artist Aaron McIntosh, is redefining traditional quilt making.

“The Embedded Message: Quilting in Contemporary Art,” the Visual Arts Center’s newest exhibition, is pushing to change the status quo of quilts. The thirteen featured artists are uncovering and questioning the historic meaning and techniques of quilt making to challenge the way people view the art form.

“The quilt is an object that crosses cultural boundaries,” says the Visual Arts Center’s Executive Director and co-curator of the exhibition, Stefanie Fedor. “It’s a catalyst for conversation because it tells difficult stories.”

Fedor herself hand-picked each U.S.-hailing artist, including 33-year-old Aaron McIntosh, a fourth generation quilter who calls Virginia home. His piece, Invasive: Pulse Memorial, was specially commissioned for the exhibition and is a tribute to the 49 victims of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. The sculpture of the palm tree intertwined with a kudzu vine stands at 13 feet and is made purely of textile.

We chatted with Aaron about his role in the exhibition and how the artists are shedding a new light on traditional quilting.

What is your inspiration behind your piece in the exhibition?

A quilt in itself is loaded with meaning and is used as a way to memorialize celebrations and life events. To memorialize the victims of the Pulse tragedy, I created a quilted take on what we consider monuments. The kudzu is a metaphor for how queer people in the south thrive in places that are otherwise “uninhabitable.” Every aspect of the sculpture is intentional: each vine leaf has a victim’s name embroidered on it, and the patchwork is a collection of techniques with relevant, charged names, such as Hunting Ground and Our Country.

What is the main message you want viewers to take away from your art and specifically from the Pulse Memorial sculpture?

In general, I want viewers to have a new understanding and expanded view of quilting as an art form. The Pulse piece is a memorial to the victims, and I want viewers to pause and reflect. A main theme was to present mourning as a way of celebration. In that way, part of the sculpture is hopeful and forward thinking.

How are you redefining what a traditional quilt is and how it translates into contemporary art? 

Quilts are a benign American tradition that speak to traditional and progressive ideas. I use quilts as a form to challenge their “Americana” reputation by incorporating political and social commentary. I want people to think of quilting in a different way; more than just a storytelling platform, but as a canvas.

What do you think quilting means to future generations?

The exhibition brings a diverse roster into the mix, from ethnicity to practices. It offers a new way to look at quilting through more than just a blanket. Younger generations are excited about an art form that relates to them, that they are able to respond to, and that pushes the boundaries of traditionalism.

Why do you think the exhibition as a whole is important for Richmond to see?

The exhibition is intersectional: there is not just one type of message or technique. It’s important to draw attention to the wide array of issues and celebrations currently in America. The exhibition does this fearlessly by forcing people to think differently about their own expectations of quilts.

The exhibition, “The Embedded Message: Quilting in Contemporary Art” will be open to the public at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond until February 11, 2018.

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