Exhibition & Conference
September 8 - December 2, 2007 Spencer Museum of Art
The University of Kansas
Aaron Douglas:
African American Modernist
Aaron Douglas: African American Modernist Home Page Aaron Douglas: African American Modernist Exhibition 'Aaron Douglas and the Arts of the Harlem Renaissance' interdisciplinary conference - September 28-29, 2007 Spencer Museum of Art The University of Kansas Aaron Douglas: African American Modernist

Marla Jackson's Sankofa

About the Work

Marla Jackson's quilt Sankofa is inspired by the silhouettes in Aaron Douglas's monochromatic art and the celebration of her love for African Americans. The African traditional philosophy of "Sankofa" involves remembering our past in order to move into the future. In her quilt, the figure at the far left looks backwards, but leads the other figures forwards. “Sankofa” is also the title of a powerful film depicting the origins and remnants of slavery as well as ways to move forward.

Jackson's depiction of Sankofa philosophy is a holistic expression of the movement, celebration, and the will of freedom. Sankofa includes, as well as explodes, multiple binaries such as the tensions between black and white, traditional and unorthodox, forgotten and remembered, secular and spiritual.

Paying homage to our African American artists of the past, and bringing them forward into the 21st Century is critical to Jackson's work. In essence, Art lives and the artists who came before live on in their work and its inspiration for future generations.

– Cynthia Lynn
African & African American Studies / Department of English

About the Artist

Marla A. Jackson is one of eight children born to Fern Eaton Crum and Rufus Crum Jr., originally from Royal Oak Township (a suburb of Detroit, Michigan). Marla spent most weekends and summers with her paternal grandparents, Rufus and Zelma Crum, and Lucille Crum, her great-grandmother.

Marla remembers the hand-tied quilt made from old clothes and scraps that her great-grandmother kept on her bed. Marla asked Grandma Lucy why she didn’t buy a pretty, new bedspread. Lucille told Marla that she made the quilt herself, using pieces from clothing that belonged to family members and reminded her of special events and relationships.

Marla’s artistic direction was influenced by these stories. Marla’s quilts depict scenes and themes that capture the pride, spirit, pain, and joy of the African American experience.

Each of Marla Jackson’s quilts tells a story. Many of these stories are personal, such as the birth of her first son. Others were born from stories shared by her great-grandmother, Lucille Crum, a former slave.

Marla’s desire is to echo the untold stories of heroes that history has overlooked, forgotten, or hidden. Stories that enrich the heritage of Kansas’ vital role in our nation’s history regarding slavery.

Marla depicts this history in her story quilts, a unique niche she has discovered to tell about these heroes. She thereby helps shed light and restore to them honor, for the great sacrifices they made for us all.

Children find these story quilts an easy, compelling way to assimilate history. They discover new heroes not found in their history books, while simultaneously being exposed to art. After all, they are our future leaders, teachers, and artists. Marla’s art is valuable, not only for its visual appeal, but for visually capturing oral history and events that might otherwise be forever lost.

– Cynthia Lynn
African & African American Studies / Department of English

Artist’s Statement

Quilting allows me to access a place deep within my soul where absolute peace is present. I am a quilting poet, whose intention is to provide opportunities to challenge common beliefs, to promote questioning, and to inspire others to make the world a better place for all people.

Quilting has bought me to a greater understanding of my family history, as well as the broader histories of the African American experience. I am particularly drawn to stories and images depicting slavery and freedom, specifically the efforts of the Underground Railroad. Often I wake up in the middle of night with my mind full of images. I immediately begin sketching what my mind’s eye conceptualizes. These midnight drawings are then realized through the quilting process. My desire is to continue to have opportunities to share my work, my vision, and our collective narratives and histories.

– Marla Jackson