The handwritten description of the panels of this appliqued piece reads as follows:
1. Sekai and her husband are fighting.
2. Sekai tells her friend and they are leaving the village.
3. They are at the traditional doctor.
4. They are going back home.
5. She prepares the food with some charms.
6. Life is sweet. Sekai is coming to fetch water and the husband is switching some maize. They are living happily.
Not too long ago, I saw a small appliquéd wallhanging with the intriguing name of African Love Potion. I’ve always been a sucker for a story, and this little quilt used a series of six pictorial panels to colorfully illustrate a tale of marital discord with a happy ending. I was hooked—I had to have it!
It was only after I bought the wallhanging that I realized there was a folded scrap of ruled tablet paper tucked into a pocket in the last panel. The paper contained a description of each scene, handwritten in pencil. Captivated, I was determined to learn more about it. The place at which the piece was purchased told me only that it was “Weya” appliqué.
So began my pursuit for information about Weya appliqué, with the internet and Google providing the keys to unlock the mystery. I learned that Weya is a rural area of Zimbabwe where extreme poverty is the norm, AIDS affects one in four adults, and women are often the heads of households. In the late 1980s, the German Volunteer Service asked art teacher Ilse Noy to develop an economic assistance project to help Weya women become financially self-sufficient.
Noy, knowing that the Weya women already had needlework skills, came up with the idea of teaching them to make items that could be sold to tourists, among which were narrative, pictorial wall hangings similar to the one I purchased. At its inception, the Weya Textile Project worked with nine women. Today, hundreds of women make such pieces and their work is shown and sold throughout the world. Ilse Noy went on to write a book about the project entitled The Art of the Weya Women.
Noy encouraged the women to depict stories or themes that reflected their own lives and experiences. Many of the pieces show everyday domestic duties, such as grinding corn to make cornmeal, brewing beer, or caring for children. Others illustrate beliefs and attitudes, and deal with such topics as marriage, relationships, sexuality, death, ancestors, spirits, and desires.
The project (and its offshoots) has generated the same sort of controversy that surrounds most ethnic art produced directly for the tourist trade—namely that originality and true artistic merit are sacrificed to a production line approach.
I was dismayed to find that the piece I purchased was not signed, and the description did not include the artist’s name, an omission that lends weight to such criticism. However, by all accounts, the appliqué pieces have generated much-needed income, with a byproduct of self-esteem for the women who make them.
With the controversy in mind, I looked at my little wallhanging afresh. It still charms me, and I think about the anonymous (to me) woman who made it, knowing that it helped her provide for herself and her family. That’s not so different from so many of our quilting foremothers who plied their needles with the main purpose of providing warm cover and who, nevertheless, managed to express their artistic talents as well.
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Column 141: Tom Korn’s Military Medal Quilts
Column 140: The Return of Double Knits!
Column 139: Passage Quilts
Column 138: Home of the Brave Quilts
Column 137: The Story of Fabric Yo-Yos
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Column 135: Trifles
Column 134: Deaf Initiatives—Communicating Through Quilts
Column 133: My Betty Boop Quilt
Column 132: Maura Grace Ambrose
Column 131: All You Need Is Love
Column 130: Chicken Linens
Column 129: The Quilted Chuppah
Column 128: Patchwork Around the World: Yoruba Dance Costumes
Column 127: The Bowers Co-Op Quilts
Column 126: Fon Appliqué and Haitian Voodoo Flags
Column 125: The Quilt Garden at The North Carolina Arboretum
Column 124: Harriet Powers and Handful’s Mauma
Column 123: Quilters de Mexico
Column 122: An Appliquéd Surprise
Column 121: Matisse’s Fabric Stash
Column 120: Soogan—The Cowboy’s Quilt
Column 119: The Ron Swanson Quilt
Column 118: HClarkdale, Georgia—A Thread of History
Column 117: How WWI Changed the Color of Quilts in the United States
Column 116: Wagga—The Bushman’s Quilt
Column 115: All in the Family
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Column 112: The Family That Quilts Together, Stays Together
Column 111: Two Rivers, Three Sisters
Column 110: Quilters Helping Quilters
Column 109: Community Cookbooks and Fundraiser Quilts—Parallel Histories
Column 108: Quilting to Freedom
Column 107: National Quilting Day
Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
Column 105: A Call for a National Juneteenth Commemorative Quilt
Column 104: Dominoes
Column 103: 1936 Texas Centennial Bluebonnet Quilt
Column 102: Helen Blackstone, A Texas Quilter
Column 101: Montana CattleWomen Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
Column 99: Montana Stockgrowers Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 98: The Tobacco Sack Connection
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Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
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