When thinking of a quilt, it is easy to imagine a colorful mass of blanket for someone to curl up under. For visual artist Sanford Biggers, a quilt is more of a combination between different aspects of history and culture. On Dec. 16, the Weatherspoon Art Museum honored Biggers as Falk Visiting Artist, featuring works of his that explore different phases of time, religion and self.
Walking into the exhibit one is treated to a wide swath of color and complexity. Each quilt offers an intriguing and distinct statement. By presenting the quilts as “canvases,” Biggers plays with the existing patterns and lays paint over them to create subject and story. The works have a commanding presence due to their large size, almost demanding to be examined.
One of the first works that meet the eye is “Cheshire (Guapa).” This work is rather simple, an asymmetrical, bright orange textile has a piece of quilt protruding out of its center, which is placed in the center of a larger quilt. “Cheshire” has an almost voyeuristic aesthetic to it, as it appears to reference the female figure.
The centerpiece of the exhibit is the work “Shifter.” This piece is relatively untouched compared to the other works in the exhibit, as it only has two sporadic splashes of acrylic paint and a small quilt fragment attached to the “canvas.” An angular, gold acrylic line draws the eye towards a piece of quilt placed at the bottom corner of the work, as it breaks the pattern of the larger quilt.
When asked about why he chose to work with quilts, Biggers offered a poignant observation: “The quilt, while an independent material, is also a philosophical approach to combining or patchworking other mediums, conceptual and historical references and artistic genres.
Paired with the quilt works is a music video. The video was a collaborative effort between Biggers’ band Moon Medicin, the director Terence Nance and the director of photography Shawn Peters.“While Terence was doing a residency in the Catskills I asked him to choose a Moon Medicin song to visually interpret. After selecting the song ‘The Great Escape,’ we packed up a car with a few props and cameras and went to the surrounding woods to improvise the video on display here,” Biggers said. “Though the song and video are autonomous creations, they integrate within the interdisciplinary patchwork of the quilt works.”
The video itself begins with shots of Earth from outer space. It then constantly shifts views and pans closer in to a male figure wrapped in blankets. He emerges and continues to explore the world around him. This is also when the music shifts from atmospheric and avant-garde to a steady beat and lyrics.
Dr. Emily Stamey curated Biggers’ work for this exhibit. “The artist has said that as opposed to paint or sculpture or video, history is his ‘medium.’ The more I spend time with the paintings and video on view in this exhibition, the more I discover that to be true,” Stamey said. “Biggers is culling images, patterns, colors, music and materials from so many different moments in time, as well as from so many different cultures. The result is artwork that really pushes us to think about how ideas both persist and transform from one generation to the next, from one place to the next.”
Stamey went on to stress the importance of viewing the music video in its entirety. At only a few minutes in length, the lyrics, narrative and visuals offer thoughtful parallels to the quilt canvases.
Julie Canziani, a UNC graduate who was visiting Greensboro shared what struck her most at the exhibit. “I’ve never seen quilts painted on before,” she said. “My aunt makes quilts and said it was strange for her to see [quilts] done in this way, or transformed in this way. That was interesting.” Canziani’s personal favorite was “Quilt #16.”
Sanford Biggers’ work will remain in The Tannenbaum and Falk Galleries until April 8, and Biggers will be giving an artist talk March 15.
More information about the exhibit and the museum’s hours can be found at weatherspoon.uncg.edu.