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Clara Wainwright: Mending Baghdad

LINCOLN, MA-clara wainwright-quiltmaker, public celebration artist, founder of First Night, and the subject of a career retrospective at DeCordova in 2002- returns to DeCordova to engage the public in her latest project, Mending Baghdad.

Between noon and 3:30 pm on Friday, November 21 and Saturday, November 22, the artist will be seated at a table in the Museum galleries with the collage spread out before her. Visitors participate by taking a seat at the table and helping her "mend" (hand-stitch) a large fabric collage inspired by the front page images of Baghdad in flames during the "shock and awe" phase of the war in Iraq. As the collage is only glued together, it must be sewn in order to last. The artist has already invited people to mend in her studio, at the Dreams of Freedom Museum, and at the Cape Ann Historical Association.

The purpose of the project is to bring people together to do something symbolically curative for Iraq. "People have taken small invisible stitches, added architectural details such as doors and windows, and stitched small hopeful blades of grass," says the artist. "An Iraqi woman embroidered ’Baghdad, City of Peace’ in Arabic. I don’t know where the collage will go in the end, but maybe with a delegation of women who are going to Iraq."

clara wainwright: Mending Baghdad is organized by Rachel Rosenfield Lafo, Director of Curatorial Affairs.

About clara wainwright - Brookline-based artist clara wainwright was featured in winter 2002 at DeCordova in her first-ever career retrospective. clara wainwright: Quiltmaker and Celebration examined the three intersecting paths of Wainwright’s undertakings: (1) fabric art from the early 1970s to the present, (2) her important role as a visionary artist and organizer of public celebrations, and (3) her collaborations on community-based art projects. The exhibition included over 40 fabric collages and quilts, artist books, installations with painted and decorated furniture, documentary information about the artist’s leadership role in public celebrations such as First Night and The Great Boston Kite Festival, and a selection of collaborative community quilts.

Early fabric collages by clara wainwright drew from traditional quilt patterns and geometric shapes, and later progressed to narrative scenes depicting landscapes, figures, and animals. Wainwright was inspired by those artists whose work she admired-Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Henri Rousseau, Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, Philip Guston, and Elizabeth Murray. Her work likewise demonstrates an affinity for surrealism and shows influences of the patterning, bright colors, and expressive qualities of folk, outsider, and aboriginal art.

The many themes addressed by the artist include politics, humor, the environment, personal concerns, theater, music, art history, popular culture, maps and geography, omens and oracles, science, genetics, and technology. clara wainwright has also developed a specific vocabulary of recurring images, such as flying carpets (vehicles of search, travel, and oversight), light bulbs (symbols of creativity), the house shape (a symbol of home and community), and stitches (a metaphor for mending and time). Mummies and wrapped forms represent oracles and also reflect the artist’s interest in Egyptian and tribal cultures.

Although clara wainwright does not consider herself a feminist, her use of fabric as a medium and the content of her work-which includes references to political, social, and personal events-ally her with the feminist concept that "the personal is the political." In the early 1970s, such artists as Miriam Schapiro and Judy Chicago asserted the validity of women’s subject matter, namely home, family, and personal issues, as well as traditional women’s skills such as sewing and quilting. The same issues are important to Wainwright; in her community quilt projects she has worked with many groups of women, among them teenage mothers, grandmothers raising grandchildren, victims of domestic violence, and fishermen’s wives. She also works with other communities of people, including school children, diverse immigrant groups, and neighborhood associations.

clara wainwright and a group of like-minded visionaries founded First Night, a New Year’s community celebration through the arts that took place for the first time in Boston on December 31, 1976. From that first cold night when 25,000 people ventured on to the streets of Boston to attend 53 performances in churches, halls, and subway stations, to First Night’s twenty-fifth anniversary, which drew crowds of more than one million to 250 events, the celebration has been a wild success. First Night has served as a model for more than 200 similar celebrations around the world that are licensed by the non-profit organization First Night International. What began as a brilliant idea of a small group of people has become an enduring tradition that now involves millions of people.

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