You might already have noticed something a little different around the Alys Stephens Center and the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts (AEIVA). From Aug. 28 to Sept. 5, both buildings will be draped in massive quilts made from fabric donated by the community and sewn together by local volunteers and Brooklyn artist Amanda Browder.
The massive fabric installations derive from fabric donated at spots around town and sewn together at community sewing days throughout the last few months, with Browder and the ladies of the Bib & Tucker Sew-Op from Woodlawn’s Desert Island Supply Co. taking on the lion’s share of the work. The fruits of the labor will be Magic Chromacity, two huge quilts that bring art out of a separate gallery space and into the real world.
It’s an ambitious project that borders on the masochistic, but Browder has drawn on a seemingly limitless well of energy – and a great deal of community support – to make it happen. Browder exudes a sense of leadership and easy charisma that makes it easy to see why people are drawn to assist in bringing her grand visions to life.
When asked about the massive scale of the project, Browder laughed and replied, “That’s the reason you become an artist; you don’t do stuff to be safe and comfortable and hope it works. You go for broke.”
Magic Chromacity is interesting for a number of reasons, but scale is just one of them. In addition to the ambition of the exhibition, the quilts also bring art into mundane, everyday life, as well as reflecting the unique character of Birmingham.
“One reason I do these outdoor pieces is that I’ve always had a beef with painters who are stuck within this white-wall community, and they don’t really want to break out of it, and it drives me bananas,” Browder said. “I feel like a lot of my work is all about opening up the space up and making the indoor and the outdoor seem less like they have a boundary around them. … People who are nervous to go into the museum, this may bring them in a little bit more and feel like it’s an active space, and not something where they’ll have to knock on the door and ask permission to come inside.
“The public and private conversation…about the fabric traditionally being a private item and putting it in a public sphere, I feel like it kind of helps the community get why contemporary art is something that’s accessible and not something to be shunned, or be nervous about,” Browder added.
On that note, Magic Chromacity provides a colorful exclamation point to UAB’s desire for Alys Stephens and AEIVA to constitute a cultural corridor on the Southside. “I think that in a lot of ways it is a sort of welcome mat,” said Jared Ragland, visual media and outreach coordinator at the UAB Department of Art and Art History, which is coordinating the exhibition. “We’re here and this is the kind of work we’re doing: progressive, contemporary, interdisciplinary and fun. And it has a community element to it.
“The great thing about the project is that if you’re the person that brought that piece of star fabric, you’re going to be able to see it on the side of the building once it goes up,” Ragland added. “It reinforces that community aspect – it’s not like once the installation is pinned or sewn together, it becomes this uniform thing. It retains the personality of the people who have contributed and sewn it together. … It’s about everybody that’s worked on the project together.”
Browder wholeheartedly agreed. “This project, Magic Chromacity, is now Birmingham’s in general,” the artist said. “If I were to show this again…it would always refer back to Birmingham as its place of origin. … Everybody who’s there, who makes it, is the piece.”
Amanda Browder will give a free lecture at AEIVA on Thursday, Aug. 28 at 6 p.m. The opening reception will be 5-7:30 p.m. the following day. For more information, call (205) 975-2787.