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Fabric connects artists, Africa and ‘Homegoing’ book in Massillon show

The Massillon Museum has a long history of creating art exhibits tied to literature as part of an annual community reading program. “Homegoing,” a novel by Yaa Gyasi about two sisters from Africa separated at birth, inspired this year’s special exhibit.

The book follows the different paths of the two sisters- one marries a British colonizer in Ghana and the other is sold into slavery- as well as their descendants in Ghana and the U.S.

“It was really important for me to have the show be a great representation of the story,” said Tameka Ellington, Ph. D., who curated the exhibit. “The essence of the book is always bringing you back to home, which is Ghana.”

Ellington, a former fashion designer and Kent State University professor, selected a handful of artists who use fabric in their work for “Home Again: The Embodiment of Africa through Art and Fabric.”

“When we think about home, typically we think about the curtains in our grandmother's living room, or we might think about… the floral print that was on the sofa,” Ellington said.

"River's Spirit" by Francine Murphy-Terry is on view in "Home Again: The Embodiment of Africa through Art and Fabric" at the Massillon Museum.
Carrie Wise
Ideastream Public Media
"River's Spirit" by Francine Murphy-Terry is on view in "Home Again: The Embodiment of Africa through Art and Fabric" at the Massillon Museum.

The exhibit features photography, sculpture, quilts and mixed media art by local, national and international artists.

Akron artist Francine Murphy-Terry has a few three-dimensional pieces in the show, including a large, collaged mask, “River's Spirit,” which is made with paper pulp.

“‘River's Spirit’ is an accumulation of different fabrics that I've painted and embellished,” she said. “This happens to be a representation of the struggle of someone that is from the motherland: Africa.”

Murphy-Terry fuses her own experiences into her work too. In “River's Spirit,” for example, there is a fish symbol on the water gourd atop the woman’s head, which is a nod to working for her parents’ fish import business.

Another Akron artist, Woodrow Nash, has a sculpture in the show of a woman wearing a head wrap.

An entire wall of head wraps by artist Chesley Antoinette of Texas acknowledges both the beauty and history of the garments commonly worn in both Africa and the U.S.

Colorful headwraps on display in museum
Carrie Wise
Ideastream Public Media
These colorful headwraps are part of Chesley Antoinette's "Tignon" collection.

The display is part of Antoinette’s collection, “Tignon,” which refers to a Louisiana law from the late 1700s requiring Black women to cover their hair.

Antoinette’s work shows how women turned wearing tignons into an enhancement, Ellington said.

“Instead of the women being oppressed by the fact that they had to cover their hair, they started wearing all of these beautiful, elaborate fabrics on their head, which made them even more attractive,” she said.

The exhibit also includes two Gee’s Bend quilts, loaned to the museum by Cuyahoga Falls resident Jacqueline DeBose.

Sculpture and quilts on view at the Massillon Museum
Carrie Wise
Ideastream Public Media
Sculpture by Akron artist Woodrow Nash and Gee's Bend quilts are featured in the exhibit at the Massillon Museum.

“These quilts really symbolize what you can do with your hands and a little bit of something,” said DeBose, who was able to travel to Gee’s Bend, Alabama, and meet quilter Qunnie Pettway.

Now internationally collected and exhibited in museums, Gee’s Bend quilts date back to the 1800s, with enslaved women in the rural community creating quilts with scraps of fabric.

South African artist Chepape Makgato incorporates pieces of fabric into his collaged paintings, and several of his pieces are on view in the exhibit.

Vibrant painting by South African artist Chepape Makgato
Carrie Wise
Ideastream Public Media
"Humming African Song" by South African artist Chepape Makgato is on view in "Home Again: The Embodiment of Africa through Art and Fabric" at the Massillon Museum.

Massillon Museum Executive Director Alexandra Nicholis Coon said it is the first time the museum has had art shipped from South Africa.

“It is such an honor to be showcasing artists who are local, national and international, because it really reflects the extent to which our community has an ability to invite artists and perspectives from all around the globe to communicate,” she said.

The community is invited to an artist’s reception Saturday from 1-3 p.m., and the museum is also giving away free copies of “Homegoing.” The exhibit, “Home Again: The Embodiment of Africa through Art and Fabric,” is on view through May 19.

Carrie Wise is the deputy editor of arts and culture at Ideastream Public Media.