Class Leadership Project Reflection

In Uncategorized on April 1, 2010 at 2:30 am

We are learning, constantly, through an exchange of knowledge and understanding of certain subjects. As class leaders, we learn just as much, if not more, as the rest of the class. It’s fantastic.

When I approached Amanda about teaming up to do this project, I was a little nervous. I wasn’t sure if my research interests would fit hers, either was I sure I would be helpful to her ideas. But once I mentioned to her that I’d like to do something with African art, her eyes sparked and then our project unfolded: looking at African American quilting as a form of resistance.

I started searching very generic African resistance art, but the topic is too broad to be really studied in such a short period of time. I was frustrated with my research, and I turned into Amanda to see if she got some ideas. She told me that she is work with the Somali-Bantu kids on a quilt, and that fascinated me. Soon I became more and more interested in this particular genre of African resistance art. First appearing as a topic too specific to relate to other rhetorical strategies, quilting, as a form of resistance, keeps opening up to me as a world where many struggles, compromises, conflicts overlap and interact. It relates to almost everything we have talked about: slavery, definition of “writing,” resistance, autoethnography, Alzadua’s usage of language, imperialism, eurocentricism, contact zone, etc. Quilting, as a act of resistance that has long been overlooked, should be understood, respected and appreciated. Maybe choosing, researching and then presenting the topic itself is our resistance to that ignorance.

Our project in many ways relates to our course readings and discussions. The most distinguish connection to me lies in the patterns of the quilts to Eurocentricism. The patterns African American slaves made for themselves are very different from those they made for their masters. Their masters like linear, organized, floral patterns that come from linear Eurocentric thinking. By saying that Eurocentric thinking is linear, I mean the European rational thinking: if A then B–the streamline thinking or the one-point-to-the-other-point thinking. In contrast, the almost chaotic, integrated, non-linear, colorful African American patterns, which are rooted in Africa, reflect African’s circular/fractal thinking. Everything is related with everything else: individual to community, women to men, nature to human to spirit. That kind of thinking to me is like a spider web, the center is nature. The fact that European-trained slave masters despised the native African patterns, and asked the seamstresses to make quilts using their organized, detailed patterns reveals the oppression of other culture and the domination of the European thinking.

The other important relation between African American quilting and our readings and discussions is that quilting challenges our notion of “writing.” Not only writing is defined as verbal documentation in Western cultures, but also are other forms of writing denied by scholars. Quilting hasn’t been acknowledged by scholars as crucial historical evidence of resistance until 1970s because for so long, non-written information doesn’t count as scholar enough. The African oral story telling tradition was taken away by the scholarship. What is writing exactly? This blog post? The words on your T-Shirt? Books? Does music notes count as writing then? If so, then so do the stitches on African American quilts. Those stitches form patterns that symbolize their native language: the rhythm of the stitches is like music that carry a deep cultural meaning that sometimes even goes beyond written words. Furthermore, who has the authority to say whether or not written evidence is “true’? Those questions bothered us while we were doing our research, and we hoped that our presentation could make the rest of the class think about those questions and re-value “scholarship.” What we are doing as students: are we consumers of colonial system of knowledge or we are learning to resist those authorities?

With that goal in mind, I think our presentation was successful in asking those questions and relating our presentation to previous class discussions. In their responses, students hit most of the points in the answers we prepared. For example, in answering the question how is quilting a form of resistance and to what they resist, they not only mentioned the codes/symbols that embodied in the quilts as African heritages, but they brought up some points that we hadn’t prepared. Kiana said that quilting broke the silence among African American slaves, and it is quite loud itself. That point never occurred to me during my research. In comparing quilts for slaves themselves and for their masters, I think students also did a good job identifying many differences.

Yet, I would like our discussion to be a little more self-initiated by the students, not by us. During the class, I felt the urge to push the discussion sometimes. It was certainly not a bad thing, but I guess I would like the conversation to flow more naturally. For future leadership projects, we can work on improving the relationship between questions and maybe try the activity first and then unfold the questions, etc. We also prepare more than we delivered because of the time we had. I think I’d like to have the whole class period for the presentation because we’d then be able to finish off with the other topic we wanted to talk about: gender roles.

During the research, we found that many African American studies scholars such as Booker T. Washington promoted art that represented the manhood of African Americans, such as blacksmithing. Quilting, which is done by females, is excluded. Traditionally, African males create textile, but this situation changed when the slaves were brought to America, where women were supposed to do those craft jobs. Thus, women took on Eurocentric gender role of seamstress. Although the act of imposing gender roles on African American slaves was undoubtedly wrong, it might not do as much harm as the oppressors expected. Women’s taking on the job that was used to be done by men encourage a tie between women and their family in the community. Quilting didn’t separate families, but actually bond them tighter. Woman’s role in quilting also leads to the appearance of female leaders in the civil rights movement. If we have a chance to compare women’s resistance to that of men, it would be very interesting to see the results. In my opinion, the resistance of females is not as violent, yet more effective.

This leadership project reminds me to define “writing” consciously, to look at rhetoric of resistance in a much broader sense: it can be revealed through stitches, clothes, textiles and many other aspects that we normally overlook. Moreover, it made me very conscious about the scholar sources I will run ino in the future, as I will be critical about the sources of their scholarship. Is education a product of imperialism? If so, how can we fight against it? That thought is scary: I feel like I am a product of this problematic system of education, and I have no idea about what I can do. The project also helps me look at art differently. I used to view art as a form of expression, and people produce art in order to resist. However, I think quilting serves as a form of resistance first before it become a form of art itself. Then what is art? How can we define it? The slaves didn’t see quilting as form of art. They saw it more as life necessity, a job, or an escape from heavy slave work. But later on, quilting is recognized as a form of art. Is the term “art” an imperial notion? Is it only when something is not so urgent anymore that it can be entitled as “art”? Is what we defined as art perceived in the same way by those who create them (“artists”)? How are we, as viewers, responding to “art” differently than for example, food? This project keeps puzzling me with those questions, and it really made me rethink many existing information that I took in for granted. It complicated my thinking in many ways, and I really enjoyed it!


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