By Fern E. Gillespie
For over 30 years, Dr. Myrah Brown Green has been a quilt artist and professor of textile arts exploring the presence of African symbols in modern art and African symbols in North American quilts.
Myrah is multi-talented. She is a renowned quilt maker, curator, writer, photographer, painter, mixed media artist and scholar whose quilts are in numerous collections such as the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Museum and in the collection at Michigan State University. Her quilt exhibitions include the international Arts in Embassy Program, American Bible Society, Brooklyn Museum of Art, New England Quilt Museum, Nathan Cummings Foundation in New York and the American Craft Museum at the Payne Weber Gallery.
From March 19 – April 10, 2022, the FiveMyles Gallery in Crown Heights will host Green’s exhibition My Underground Railroad and How I Got Through, a collection of works in homage to the women in her mother’s family and also her personal mental liberation from creative self-doubt. In addition to quilts, the exhibition includes linoleum cut images on paper and fabric along with photographs and mixed media installations. It’s created in special collaboration with Summer-Zaire Bell, Sannii Crespina-Flores and Cheryl Thomas.
Ironically, her first quilt was so disappointing Green gave up on quilting. When she attended Pratt, a class project was to create a fiber art piece. She decided to create her first quilt. She was an A student, but she was devastated that her first quilt was graded a C.
“I had bought the best velvet and the most vibrant colors,” she recalled to Our Time Press. “It wasn’t until many years later that I realize that I deserved the C, because there was no batting in it. I did not know what I was doing. I didn’t know that quilts have three layers.”
Many years later, she heard about a quilt guild workshop for children. Her daughters were not interested, but she got hooked. At the guild, she learned how to strip piece quilt sections on newspaper and magazines. “I’m a self-taught quilter,” she explained.
However, while renowned Black quilt artists like Faith Ringgold and Bisa Butler incorporate African fabrics in their art, Green does not. Instead, she sews appliques. “I really was not an African fabric kind of girl,” she said. “I have probably have one of the best collections of African fabrics. I love African fabrics, but I never really used it in my quilts. I finally decided many years later I would use hand-dyed fabrics from Africa. Sometimes, I would gift fabrics when someone transitioned.”
Green’s quilts have African symbols. “When you look at my work, although there are no African fabrics in most of my works, it looks like there are. It’s because of how I use the colors to make a statement,” she explained, describing the quilt she made dedicated to the Yoruba goddess Oya.
Like many quilters, sewers, fiber artists and fabric collectors, Green kept her first quilt. “The back is satin and the top is velvet,” she explained. “A couple of years ago I decided it was time for it to go. Then I said maybe I can salvage some of it. So, I cut the top away and then I quilted it for this show. I created almost a tribute to my grandmother. It is like a Egungun Yoruba costume. Like an ancestor robe.”
Visitors to My Underground Railroad and How I Got Through, will see Green’s current magnificent quilts and her redesigned first quilt. It will be draped on a stand in memory of her grandmother.
In addition to her Pratt MFA, Green has earned a doctorate in Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus in Art History from Union Institute University and a doctorate in business administration from Boston University. She holds the title of Distinguished Lecturer of Art and Advisor to the Dean of Humanities and the Arts at the City College of New York where she also teaches a course that she designed entitled Quilt Making in American History. She has authored many works including her award-winning book Brooklyn on my Mind: Black Artists from the WPA to the Present published in 2018. She continues her academic research in The Presence of African Symbols in Modern Art which has spread to the presence of African symbols in North American quilts.