Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Through the Eyes of Kyra

By: John Buchinger, Associate Director of Education
There are days when you get things right. November seventh at The Fenimore Art Museum was one of those days. Roughly 150 eleventh graders made the pilgrimage from Yonker’s New York Public schools to attend a very special day in Cooperstown featuring tours of the exhibit Through the Eyes of Others, curator by Gretchen Sullivan Sorin, and to hear from one of the shows artist Kyra Hicks.
I had the good fortune to play tour guide and roadie to Kyra while she was here. She is a dynamic woman whose history is as fascinating as the brightly colored quilts that bear pivotal moments, emotions and stories from her own life. Her appearance at the Fenimore was made possible by a grant from IMLS and the students travel and attendance were all supported through the grant.
Kyra spoke to the students not just about quilting but about life. She made connections with students, by asking questions, getting their interpretations on her quilts, and teaching them that if they have a dream that they should go for it!
Kyra is a marketer by trade and a world traveler who was accustomed to bringing the messages of major corporations to people. But in the 1990s, after viewing a quilt show that featured the likes of Faith Ringgold, she had discovered her passion: story quilts.

The quilts which all are queen size are a combination of images and words that come from Kyra's "soul." The exhibition, Through the Eyes... deals with the topic of African American identity in art and Kyra’s work are brightly colored vivid representations of her politics, personal longings, and social observations. Her Black Barbie Quilt which features and image of an African American woman dressed in classic Barbie swimsuit and sunglasses reads Barbie: America's Doll…Was never intended for me.

The message is clear and succinct. It is provocative, but the image is celebratory despite the thought provoking controversy of the text. Students both male and female were riveted by the artist and her work.

Kyra shared with me that her favorite part of the day was when a group of young men who had clearly sequestered themselves in the back of the auditorium noticed and asked “Why are there no men in your quilts?”

This was an aha moment not only for the students realizing that the absence was a telling side of the quilts message, but that message Kyra had to process as well.

Rarely does anyone have the opportunity to engage with not only art, but an artist in this way. We owe a great thanks to Kyra and the students from Yonkers!

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