Raleigh, NC – NC State graduate Precious Lovell has woven history into a collection of 15 symbolic aprons, revealing the stories and identity of women and female ancestors from a personal and global standpoint. These aprons reveal powerful stories of the struggles and lives of women throughout history. Lovell uses a variety of techniques to customize each apron.
Lovell lived in NY for some years as a fashion designer. She began teaching fashion design and soon went on to grad school to major in fibers and surface design. Lovell has had the chance to travel the world and during her travels she spent some time in Korea teaching fashion design at a University. While Lovell was teaching in Korea she had a desire to start on a research project.
“The theme presented itself to me relatively quickly and when I got there I noticed that there was a lot of black faces on TV still in South Korea and there were times when I’ve sat down on a train and someone would get up and move to another seat,” said Lovell.
This made her think of her time spent in New York. Lovell touched on her personal experiences witnessing how there would be Korean businesses and small stores in African American neighborhoods but there was a lot of animosity amongst the two cultures. Lovell also mentions the correlation of the Rodney King incident as it ties into the animosity between Koreans and African Americans.
“I said there must be something that is similar to these two cultures, and I found that the correlation is found in the history of the women and their work” said Lovell.
African American weaving history contains improvisational quilting and traditional quilting during slavery along with Korean women whose weaving history is made of “Jogakbo” during the Joseon dynasty. The Korean women would take leftover scraps and turn them into the beautiful pieces of patchwork quilts.
“That became my bases for creating these aprons” said Lovell. “Both were violated. African American women who were enslaved had no control over their bodies and were raped during slavery because to the slave masters they were considered sexual beast.”
When Korea was under Japanese rule, women were taken to be made as sex slaves to the Japanese army. They were called “comfort women” which is the name the Korean women reject to this day because of the double standard meaning and the fact that there was nothing comforting about being raped. This is where Lovell came up with the concept of “the Modesty Apron” which is represented as an artifact to maintain dignity.
The Sunday when Lovell arrived in Korea she received an email that her mother’s sister, the last living ancestor, had passed away from a stroke. Lovell wanted to do something that will honor her female ancestors and doing this project she knew would help her to do so.
After gathering all of this information Lovell then began to create her collection of the modesty aprons. Lovell incorporates Korean women’s Jogakbo (Patchwork Nubi (Quilting) and Bojagi (Wrapping Cloths) and also used Korean textiles called Hemp and Ramie. Lovell used Persimmon dye cloth from JeJu Island and Korean silk.
“I used not only their techniques but also some of their fabric to make my aprons.” Lovell hand dyed, hand stitched, and used various materials from string, fiber, metal, animal skin, and even her own blood to create the aprons in all different shapes and sizes.
All of these aprons were based on a relationship Lovell had with her female ancestors or a story she was told about them. Three of the aprons represented women who were not her direct ancestors but were known and unknown to her. Lovell also talked about one apron in particular she named sister friends.
“This apron represents my dear friends who have supported me on and off throughout my life” said Lovell.
It’s much about telling the story of the African diaspora and the disenfranchised. Elizabeth Catlett a famous artist stated, “Art is only important to the extent that it aids in the liberation of our people.”
Lovell found that this quote described what she made her art about. “Art tells a story which is sometimes happy and sometimes not” said Lovell.
Dr. Lonnie Bunch who is the director of the Smithsonian Museum of African American History in Washington, DC stated that it is important that African Americans honor all of their ancestors by remembering and not only remembering the famous, but also remembering those who are viewed as famous to their families who helped shape this country in many ways. “Through my art work I am ‘remembering’,” said Lovell.
She taught a lecture on “Cotton, Race and Contemporary Art” at NC State and this inspired her to create an art piece called a sampler. Samplers were pictorial woven pieces that told life stories.
During Colonial times, women were taught how to do household chores such as cooking and cleaning which was incorporated in the samplers. Back when they were made, they would include the alphabet, the year that it was done, the name of the person who did it, and a story about the person.
Instead of having the sampler that is about a colonial southern belle, Lovell made it from the perspective of an enslaved black girl. Putting various things like a money sign and a cross to represent money and religion, which were things used to validate slavery and also included a number counting system that reflected three-fifths because slaves were considered three-fifth of a human.
Lovell’s exhibit was showcased downtown Raleigh at the Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) until in January 2017.
“Working here with CAM has been a dream come true because they have included me in every aspect of this exhibition,” said Lovell. Gab Smith, Executive Director of the museum and Eric Gaard who is the Exhibitions Director contacted Lovell about the exhibition. “That’s another thing that I always tell my students about is that the contacts that you make in school may be the contacts you keep forever and they can turn out to be really important as you age.”
Learn more about Precious Lovell, click here
Photos: Alexandria Glenn; some submitted by artist. Click on photo to start gallery