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 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
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Column 119: The Ron Swanson Quilt
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Column 116: Wagga—The Bushman’s Quilt
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Column 107: National Quilting Day
Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
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Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
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Column 98: The Tobacco Sack Connection
Column 97: Meet the Sisters Who Are State Fair Quilting Queens
Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery
Column 92: The Ballerina Quilter
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Column 85: A Bounty of Quilts
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Column 83: Quilts and the Women’s Liberation Movement
Column 82: Replicating the Past: Reproduction Fabrics for Today’s Quilts
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Column 80: Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum
Column 79: 54 Tons of Quilt
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Column 77: Quilting with AMD
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Column 75: The Modern Quilt Guild—Cyberculture Quilting Ramps Up
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Column 70: New Mexico Centennial Quilt
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Column 67: Righting Old Wrongs.
Column 66: 100 Years, 100 Quilts - More on the Arizona Centennial.
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Column 63: The Fat Quarters
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Column 60: The Camo Quilt Project.
Column 59: Thread Wit
Column 58: Ralli Quilts
Column 57: Preschool Quilters
Column 56: The Story Quilt
Column 55: Red and Green Quilts
Column 54: On the Trail
Column 53: Quilt Trail Gathering
Column 52: True Confessions: First Quilt
Column 51: Quilted Pages
Column 50: Doll Quilts
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Column 46: A Different Way of Seeing
Column 45: Sampling
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Column 38: Katrina Recovery Quilts
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