Patches of History and Culture

Habari Gani (What’s the News?) – Patches of History and Culture

By Deloris Rentz

Part of the mission of the Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center (CCMCC) is to be a promulgator of African American art in all forms.  The homepage for this website includes two marvelous works of art by outstanding African American artists, one of which is the focus of this post.

In 2007, the CCMCC produced its first Juneteenth Festival & Juried Art Show.  A renowned artist, Dr. Patricia Hilliard-Nunn, graciously agreed to create the festival poster.  It is featured in the top, middle patch on our homepage.

The “patches” on the painting represent different aspects of African-American cultural history from Africa to enslavement, to freedom.  There are patches that represent our African origins, which is our foundation.  Another patch represents faith, which has been a bedrock of survival for African Americans.  Other patches depict samples of the arts, including storytelling, drumming, dancing, painting, quilting, and more.  The empty patches represent the stories yet to be told and the creative possibilities present in all people.  The Sankofa Bird, an Adinkra symbol from Ghana, figures prominently in the painting.  Sankofa means “Go back to fetch it” and symbolizes the belief that in order to move forward, you must first know and understand the past.  The bird, with its head turned toward its tail, emphasizes the role historical and cultural memory play in collective growth.

Dr. Patricia Hilliard-Nunn, the artist, is a self-taught artist, writer, publisher, media producer, dancer and dance instructor, and community leader.  Dr. Hilliard-Nunn works with beads, wires, ropes, shells, African fabrics, and old jewelry donated by family and friends to create bright, primary-colored mixed media paintings on canvas, acrylics on canvas, quilts, and more.  She calls her work “canvas quilts” because of her use of painted mixed media squares and other shapes.  Each “patch” represents a different aspect of the stories she tells.  Her creations touch on themes related to history, culture, the creator, ancestors, family, and community.  She is as comfortable painting a shotgun house as she is painting an abstract pattern with an Adinkra symbol in the center.

I paint and quilt because it makes me happy and allows me to freely express my feelings about beauty, power, injustice, balance, and spirituality.  I’m thankful for each opportunity to create and to share my work.  –Dr. Patricia Hilliard-Nunn

Dr. Hilliard-Nunn is a professor of African American Studies at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida.


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