Weavings of War: Fabrics of Memory accompanies a landmark traveling exhibit of textiles depicting the horrors of war, by women from Central and Southeast Asia, Latin America, and South Africa. Textile artists (mostly women) throughout the world have responded to the terror of 20th-century war by incorporating images of war into works produced with traditional methods: Hmong embroiderers created storycloths depicting the plight of unarmed refugees confronted with modern military might; Afghan rug weavers replaced traditional motifs with images of tanks, machine pistols and AK-47s; Peruvian appliqués picture soldiers beating peasants.
These textiles encompass powerful contradictions: individual artistry versus community aesthetics; global versus local impacts of war; individual versus universal experience; and assumptions of folk arts as unchanging, rural,and complacent. Many of the artists still live in countries that are marked by recent conflict and some are refugees who have resettled in the United States.
Weavings of War stands as an eloquent and powerful testimony of the impact of modern warfare in our world and the relevancy and resilience of folk arts in contemporary life. The exhibition provides an opportunity to examine our existing notions of not only traditional arts in general but also the role of traditional arts in cultures rent by armed conflict, social upheaval, and displacement. Among the contributors are curator Ariel Zeitlin Cooke, consulting curator/folklorist Marsha MacDowell, historian James Young, and folklorist Barbara Kirshenblatt- Gimblett.
Ariel Zeitlin Cooke has curated a preliminary exhibit of war textiles in New York City and has written many articles on textiles and related subjects for magazines including Art & Antiques and Art News.
Marsha MacDowell is a professor in the Department of Art and Museum Curator of Folk Art at Michigan State University. She has had nearly thirty years of university museum-based experience in teaching, collection development and management, and development of exhibitions, festivals, publications, and arts policy, particularly as it relates to traditional arts. MacDowell also serves as the coordinator of the Michigan Traditional Arts Program (a partnership program of the MSU Museum with Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the Michigan University Extension Service). She is past president of the American Quilt Study Group and currently serves on the board of The Alliance for American Quilts. Her recent activities include the development of the NEH-funded The Quilt Index, the Mellon and Ford-funded South African National Cultural Heritage Training and Technology Project, a national 'Quilt Treasures' oral history project, the Great Lakes Quilt Center, the Great Lakes Folk Festival, and the exhibition 'Carriers of Culture: Contemporary Native Baskets.'