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Posey Krakowsky’s ‘Creole’ Quilts

Chichen Itza: Day of the Dead

Spirit-Driven Stitchin’
Church of the Heavenly Rest
1085 Fifth Avenue
New York City
November 6-December 31

Posey Krakowsky

Posey Krakowsky’s sumptuous quilts not only sew various disparate fabrics, surface designs, and textures to one another. They also stitch together diverse cultural and spiritual traditions, from Pre-Columbian Mayan and Afro-Caribbean Vodun to Christian iconography, and even archaic Chinese script, in what can perhaps best be described as a visual and spiritual creole with distinct mystical connotations. A new exhibition of her work is slated for November at the Church of the Heavenly Rest’s gallery on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Linguistically, creole is a language derived from two or more mother languages, like the French-related Creole spoken in Haiti and parts of Louisiana. Krakowsky (originally from New Orleans), makes quilts that likewise conjoin various visual languages and spiritual traditions into a new and unexpected unity that maintains and transcends the integrity of each unique component in the overall configuration of both form and concomitant faith.

In one particularly impressive quilt, “Chichen Itza: Day of the Dead,” the artist represents the sugar skulls traditionally offered to the departed by contemporary Mexicans on All Souls Day (Nov. 2). The skulls dominate the artwork in a surprisingly whimsical arrangement.

The holiday is also sacred to African traditions, as practiced in Benin as well as in the Caribbean, where the Gede spirits, like Bawon Samdi (Creole for “Baron Saturday”), are believed to watch over graveyards and give access among the living to deceased ancestors. In both cases it is not a mournful but a joyous observance that celebrates the living memory of the departed. Krakowsky appropriately captures the levity of the holiday, and despite the references to death, her quilt is quite exuberant, optimistic, and decorative.

Here and there are affixed to the fabric tiny “charms” such as a rooster or a crocodile, or African trade beads, as well as little stick figures running or dancing, enlivening the sensuous surface of the quilt. Surrounding the richly embroidered and embellished composition is a wide, bright orange-red border ornamented with Chinese script in an archaic style, now used only for signature seals, but originally found on ancient oracle bones used in divination. It represents, perhaps, the multiplicity and diversity of individual souls on this day, each signature referring to an ancestor (Confucian cultures have rites for the veneration of their ancestors).

Detail: Chichen Itza: Day of the Dead

The artist is a priest and serves as curate at New York’s Episcopal Church of the Ascension. That parish combines Protestant and Catholic traditions eclectically in its liturgy and identifies itself as a broad church. In her sermons, Mother Krakowsky likewise draws from a variety of different spiritual traditions, and she strives to find the commonalities in these traditions, while also respecting their individual and idiosyncratic character. Her sermons and her artwork are cut from the same cloth, so to speak.

In an old Islamic parable, several people are with an elephant in a large tent in the dark, and each person is from a region where no such creature is known. One of them, embracing the animal’s enormous leg, says it must be a tree. Another, holding the tail, assumes it is a vine of some sort, and to yet another person grasping the elephant’s agile trunk, it appears to be a large, writhing serpent.

Each has only part of the truth, and so their perception of the overall whole is only fragmentary. God (Allah) is the elephant, and we are the people in the darkness. Each tradition, whether Islam or Buddhism or Christianity or traditional Vodun spirituality, has only part of the truth.

Krakowsky’s quilts also have elaborate compositions on the back, and can be seen well from either side. Perhaps that’s another allusion to the value accorded to a serious consideration of alternate perspectives that might not be altogether commensurate, yet speak to a larger, all-encompassing truth. It’s not entirely evident, if one is too attached to a particular vantage — or to a patch or fragment of that quilt, which constitutes but one part of a larger and more ineffable totality.

 

Reverse: Chichen Itza: Day of the Dead

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