St. Louis artists reclaim the city’s black heritage through quilting | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis artists reclaim the city’s black heritage through quilting

May 23, 2016

When visual artist Basil Kincaid looked for a way to complete the Reclamation Project, a 4-year effort that creates art by remaking elements of St. Louis' black heritage, he turned to his grandmother for inspiration.

A quilter who passed her knowledge to her children, Eugenia Kincaid taught her grandson a lot about preserving cultural traditions. He decided to put the same focus into his work.

“When I would wear one of my grandmother’s quilts you just feel that love,” Kincaid said. “So we wanted to do something about healing and about community and unity. The idea of stitching these materials from all around the city felt simple and direct.”

 Kincaid, Eric “Prospect” White, and Damon Davis founded the project in 2012. Their ever-evolving artwork springs from the materials they gather from underserved communities across St. Louis. After they settled on the quilting tradition, they began the newest iteration of the project by sewing together fabric collected from strangers, friends and family.

White and Kincaid jumpstarted the idea three years ago after having a long conversation at the art gallery and performance venue Blank Space, after one of White’s show openings. They later reached out to Davis to see if he’d be interested in joining them.

The collaborative, multimedia approach can attract people from different audiences White said.

“Some people can go to an art show and get nothing from it,” he said. “But they can get in their car as soon as they leave and hear a song and understand everything that that same piece may have been saying on the inside.”

In their first installment, the artists scavenged bricks and ground them into pigment for paint they applied to wood pulled from dumpsters and abandoned buildings. White and Davis recorded an album that outlined the project’s concepts. They paired White's poems with Davis’s music to form visual and audio images of their experience growing up in under-resourced St. Louis neighborhoods. The project attracted widespread attention and was displayed at Robert Powell’s Portfolio Gallery.

Kincaid largely developed Reclamation 2 while on a year-long residency in Ghana.  He worked with Ghanean artists and residents to produce large, abstract mosaics, using discarded phone cards.

That version of the project highlighted the artists’ new attention to incorporating different modes of communication into their work and addressing the broader history of the African diaspora.  Its musical component addressed earlier stages of that diaspora in St.  Louis. In the song the “Water,” White and Kincaid explore parallels between contemporary St. Louis after of Michael Brown’s death and the 1949 race riots that took place after white residents became incensed that a city swimming pool was desegregated. 

“I mean, we’re constantly bouncing ideas,” White said. “We don’t have to necessarily be in the same city or same country to send an email or text message ‘hey, what do you think about this?’”

Basil Kincaid works on an extension of Reclamation 3, providing costuming help for Audrey Simes debut dance piece about Coldwater Creek's nuclear contamination.
Credit Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

The third iteration of the project, titled R3, will be presented as a series of visual artworks, recordings, and performances.  Kincaid’s quilts provide the fundamental visual vocabulary, drawing on fabric donated to the project by people from neighborhoods throughout St. Louis.

Throughout the summer, the latest artwork will be presented in different versions. The group’s first presentation will be a pop-up installation and one-time musical performance.  The event will take place Wednesday outside the Nebula Coworking space at Cherokee Street and South Jefferson Avenue.

Its goals resonate with other artists, among them dancers like Audrey Simes, who often collaborates. White and Kincaid run the kid’s art camp Cherokee Street Reach in the summers with others, including Pacia Anderson and Shae Reynolds-White. Davis jumps in to teach workshops or help as needed.

White sees the project as a way of encouraging others to preserve culture and help improve their city.

“A sense of actually working on what you love doing strengthens all of that,” he said. “It’s bigger than the Reclamation project, you know, a sense of unity and community and togetherness.”

If You Go

What: Reclamation 3 art project, set to music.

When: 5 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Nebula Coworking space, 3405 S. Jefferson Ave., St. Louis.