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Speaking Through Her Art
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Speaking Through Her Art

A beautiful medium and thought provoking message brought artist Jacklynn McKenney ’02 recognition at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio for the exhibit Parallels and Intersections: Artists Quilt a World.

The exhibit showcased quilts made by women from around the world. Each one featured a theme or message ranging from politically charged statements about the war in Iraq to thoughtful introspection about life as an African American woman. McKenney’s quilt, titled “What If?,” depicts images representing reasons why women choose to have abortions. “Hopefully it will discourage women from choosing to have an abortion so that in the future they will not have to ask themselves ‘What if?,’” she explains.

One of the things that make “What If?” so unique is the source of its creation. “It had been an idea in my mind for about 10 years,” recalls McKenney, who majored in studio art. However, without an appropriate medium it remained just an idea.

Following her graduation, McKenney found herself drawn to working with cloth, especially through quilting. “I like quilting because of the colors and embellishments available to enhance the pieces,” she says. She became involved with a group of artists called Contemporary Cloth Artists (COCA). While COCA members use a variety of methods to create their work, many members have a particular interest in quilting.

In July, 2003, McKenney traveled with members of her church to Nigeria. The group was hosted by several families and stayed in different homes during the three-week visit. In one home, an artist gave her several pieces of handmade cloth. She quickly determined that these would be used for a special project when she arrived back home.

After she returned, McKenney saved the cloth, looking for the right opportunity to use it. When she learned about the exhibit at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center through COCA, she decided that it was time to bring “What If?” to life.

She completed her piece, submitted it and waited to hear if it had been accepted into the exhibit. Finally, the news came that her quilt was one of only 22 selected for the exhibit. This was overwhelming for McKenney. “I was scared and thrilled at the same time,” she recalls. Her piece was going to hang alongside works by noted artists such as Carolyn Mazloomi, Keisha Roberts and one of her personal favorites, Faith Ringgold.

Unfortunately, McKenney could not attend the opening of the show. In fact, when she finally made the trek to Cincinnati with a contingent from her church, it was only a few days before the exhibit ended. “I didn’t tell any of them that I had a piece in the show,” she said. “They were a little stunned when they saw my quilt!”

McKenney has since moved on from “What If?” and is continuing her work in cloth and her affiliation with COCA. Although she has given many of her other quilt works away, “What If?” remains in her personal collection.

Steve Ruic is the Writer and Editor for Notre Dame College.

Learn more about the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center at www.freedomcenter.org