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Art Exhibit Captures the Current Moment

November 3, 2020

Exhibit on display in the Pier 69 lobby though November 22

Four handstitched quilts on display in the Port of Seattle’s Pier 69 lobby help tell the story of our current moment — the intersection of the pandemic, recession, and civil rights revolution through the unique lens of textile artists Loretta Bennett and Allison Burns.

The temporary exhibit, called “The Times” is on display through November 22According to “The Times" exhibition statement,

“Art that is being created right now is helping us to access our own humanity in the midst of these struggles. Someday in the distant future, this art will fix the frame around how this moment is understood … “The Times” gives us a broad look at the many issues that are part of the public consciousness of this era, through the very specific lens of individual artists as they are living through it.”

“The Times” also demonstrates that despite the universality of the pandemic crisis, we are not all impacted equally by this hardship. The theme connects with the Port’s Century Agenda goal to create opportunities and economic prosperity for everyone in the region, and the Port’s commitment to dismantling structural barriers so that historically oppressed communities, particularly communities of color, have access to the resources they need to thrive.

The exhibit’s theme grew out of Burns’ quilt titled Say Their Names, centered around racial injustice and systemic racism. Although Bennett’s work is more subtlety progressive, her pieces represent civil rights power.

“Loretta is already a prominent figure in the art world; Allison is a lot more under the radar and focuses more on commissions than fine arts exhibiting. It’s a nice juxtaposition for the show,” said Port Senior Art Program Manager Tommy Gregory.

With most art museums and galleries closed the last eight months due to the pandemic, Gregory wanted to provide a platform for artists to share their work. Originally the show was slated to feature more artists, but due to budget limitations in the COVID-19 climate, the show was scaled back to feature two artists. Bennett’s pieces are on loan from Greg Kucera Gallery in Seattle and Burns dropped her pieces off in Seattle on the way to her home in Portland.

Gregory says the show speaks to the important role that art plays in our lives and how we experience art during COVID-19.

“It’s weird that visual art falls through the cracks during the COVID-19 era as something that’s needed; we all have survived during this time with books movies, music, and fine art,” he said. “Art is a part of the human experience and reminds us of our shared humanity.”

The artists

Loretta Bennett

Loretta Bennett is one of the youngest quilters to continue the tradition of handmaking quilts in the renowned Gee’s Bend style, created by a group of women and their ancestors who live or have lived in the small, remote Black community of Gee’s Bend, Alabama. These handmade quilts are created by African American quilters using traditional patterning infused with their own history and experiences.

Bennett’s quilts include recycled fabrics, and wild, fantastical elements like off-center fragments of cloth and vibrant, contrasting colors.

Jim Wilcox, Gallery Manager at Greg Kucera Gallery, said that her style resonates with people because it is a departure from the traditional quilting style that utilizes strict patterning. Gee’s Bend quilters always feature unexpected elements.

“They were working with materials that were worn out; there were not working with standardized sizes of fragments and fabric,” he said. “These quilts tell an improvisational story. A lot of people compare it to jazz music and you can see how people came to that conclusion. These quilts are not perfectly square and they play with scale. Many people see that as a freeing thing and are impressed with wonderful imagery it conjures up.”

Loretta Bennett

Wilcox said although Bennett’s work was not created during the pandemic, her work is particularly relevant right now.

“It’s about carrying on those traditions that were begun at Gee’s Bend, and the idea of trying to make voting more available to African Americans, minorities, and people in general speaks to these times,” he said. “While her work is abstract and doesn’t speak to specific themes, it speaks to the work being done by people who are less represented in our society.”

 Allison Burns

The Portland-based textile artist’s two pieces were developed in response to the pandemic and racial injustice.

In Burns’ quilt, Say Their Names, black X’s honor the Black trans community and are stitched with LGBTQIA colors and gray X’s that represent the unjust killings of African Americans by police officers in the United States. This quilt features the names of 87 individuals, beginning with David McAtee (June 1, 2020) and continuing in descending date order, ending with Sandra Bland (July 13, 2015). The meandering stitching in the quilt's background represents the careful maneuvering of black people in a white privileged society, accommodating white guilt and denial.

The other featured piece, We All Fall Down, conveys the idea that when someone’s perception of reality is shifted, the challenges that are presented can, at times, be overwhelming. But when everything seems to be falling apart, it can be accepted as a beautiful experience. The quilt was designed to convey how living under quarantine has affected us.

Experience the exhibit

Allison Burns in the foreground

“The Times” is open through November 22 in the Pier 69 lobby and can be viewed three ways:

  1. Digitally by reading this story
  2. By street view from outside the windows of the Port of Seattle Lobby at Pier 69 
  3. Inside the lobby by appointment only with face coverings and physical distancing required; contact (206) 787-3000

“It’s an interesting splash of color when you walk by; I’ve noticed people slowing down and looking,” Gregory said. “For the few people who are going into the office, it’s a little bit of visual excitement that is out of the ordinary.”

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