Thursday, February 18, 2021

The resilience of African American Art: Harriet Powers

 Harriet Powers (1837-19110) Textile artist/Storyteller/Wise Woman was born into slavery in Athens Georgia. Her quilts are legendary in that they clearly show the direct influence of African decorative arts. American slave culture was far more complex and secretive than history allows in our Eurocentric telling. Harriet’s parents were probably from the Kongo or central Africa but her quilts show a distinct west African style. The Dahomey applique artists were traditionally males working in guilds and highly esteemed in their ancestral role. Harriet’s quilts show this strong influence as well as in the design which uses a vertical format often seen in west African textiles such as kente cloth. She very probably learned this from other slaves in secret conversations where oral history was heard.

Imbedded into her quilts are mnemonic messages, as reading was forbidden to slaves; information, aesthetics and information was transmitted, and stories preserved for future generations in this colorful symbology of textiles. Her beautiful quilts are testimony to the interconnected society for the kidnapped African people from many diverse nations, where all identity appeared purposely to have been stripped. And yet culture was continued in plain sight in the arts, food, religion and voice. Harriet’s use of symbolism in her art included the Biblical as well as from many African societies.  

Monday, February 15, 2021

exerpts from Woman of Prophecy, Women of Power


Outside the ruthless western march for supremacy, women often paid roles in resistance to slavery, colonialization and oppression


Powerful women were spiritual leaders and healers in Quilombos[1] (25 Palmares: New World Priestess); these were independent republics of escaped slaves, Indigenous people and disenfranchised whites. These settlements survived for centuries across the Americas and the Caribbean.

 Within the horror of slavery, women of power used their gifts to resist oppression and seek healing through use of traditional African religion (26 Conjurer Woman), art, dance (27 Damballah) and song.

all art and words copyright T.Truesdale 2020

[1] Reis, Joao, Jose, Quilombos: Brazilian Maroons During Slavery” Cultural Survival, Dec. 2001

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

exerpts from "Women of Prophecy and Power"


In New Orleans a mixed culture existed pre civil war where some women became famous for their ability to use the inherent magic of African roots (Marie Laveau born 1801). Our beloved Zora Neale Hurston wrote in 1928 in an interview with conjure doctor, Luke Turner[1]:


‘The police hear so much about Marie Laveau that they come to her house in St. Anne St. to put her in jail. First one come, she stretch out her left hand and he turned around and around and never stop until some one come lead him away. Then two come together-she put them to running and barking like dogs. Four come and she put them to beating each other with night sticks. The whole station force come. They knock on her door. She know who they are before she ever look. She did work at her alter and they all went to sleep on her steps”- Hoodoo chapter 2

words and image copyright T.Truesdale 2020

[1] Hurston, Zora Neal, Folklore, Memoirs and Other Writings; Mules and Men,( Hoodoo Chap.11) Library of America, 1995, pp183-184