Review: The stories stitched in Wini McQueen’s quilts

The+Wini+McQueen+exhibit+at+the+Museum+of+Arts+and+Sciences.+

Image: Ashley Pemberton

The Wini McQueen exhibit at the Museum of Arts and Sciences.

Wini McQueen has been a member of Macon’s art scene since the 1970s, and at the age of 77, she shows no signs of slowing down. Her work has been featured internationally, including both Japan and Africa, the latter from which she draws much of her style inspiration. 

“Nobody had any riches, but they all had tie dye and woven fabrics of all colors, and it was such a beautiful swirl,” she said in an interview with Macon Magazine. “They have a different appreciation of beauty than I think we have in this society. They have so few material resources that they appreciate what they have, and they work to create beauty not just for themselves but for their community.”

Best known as a textile artist, McQueen masterfully melds together the craft of quilting with the art of storytelling, often to capture what it means to be an African American woman in the South. 

“I want my work to speak of the beauty and horror of learning who I am, where I came from and what I’ve seen,” McQueen said. 

Of beauty, McQueen’s current exhibit at the Museum of Arts & Sciences is in endless supply. Entitled “The Covering,” the show is massive, with McQueen’s art expanding into three galleries. 

Her quilts are colorful, dynamic and unique. They are primarily made out of cotton that has been ripped and dyed every color of the rainbow, though she also paints and prints fabrics. Many of her quilts are bordered with fabric scraps twisted into flower shapes, with images and text overlaying the quilt’s center. These elements all relate back to African American history: artistic depictions of Black people over time, prominent historical figures, newspaper clippings and quotes from former enslaved people. 

And therein lies the “horror” McQueen refers to: once viewers look beyond the gorgeous, eye-catching colors and patterns of her quilts, they unearth the intergenerational trauma woven deeply into African American history that McQueen aims to educate on. 

Gaze even deeper and one would find that McQueen’s very craft, quilting, is intentional, as she incorporates the cotton medium into her telling of past—and still ongoing—southern Black slave labor. 

“Some of the memories associated with cotton need to be replaced with something beautiful, as a tribute to the work our people did, and the way they suffered,” McQueen said.

McQueen thinks of her art as more than mere quilts—they are more like narratives, like pieces of neglected history. And while their content is undeniably horrific, they also attest to the strength and hope of African Americans. 

“I think I’m taking quilting elements through a new passage and into an abstract form that is enlightening and encouraging,” she said.

My favorite work in the exhibit is a huge, reaching, three-dimensional collection of pink-and-orange-dyed fabrics arranged in a circle hanging from the ceiling. Viewers can walk between the pieces and become wrapped in “the fabric medium that has ‘covered her life’ and threads throughout her work,” according to the Museum of Arts & Science website. 

“The Covering” will be on display at the Museum of Arts & Science through October 25.