Lynching is a horrific part of American history. The Tuskegee Institute has recorded 3,446 blacks and 1,297 whites were lynched between 1882 and 1968–and these estimates are most likely conservative. Well, Indianapolis artist LaShawnda Crowe Storm doesn´t want this history to be erased. She has created quilts that depict this chapter of American history—The Lynch Quilt Project, part of which has been on display at galleries across the country.
Her “Quilt I, Her Name is Laura Nelson,” has been exhibited in a variety of venues, from formal art spaces to informal community spaces, across the country since 2004. As the remaining quilts in the series are completed, they will also begin to be exhibited together with Quilt I.
But it´s not just about showing art work about lynching, it is about discussing history. “An important component of the Project is to ensure that community resources and other support systems are in place when the work is exhibited to aid the public in processing and exploring this history,” says Storm. In Indianapolis, for example, where the quilt is presently on display, a series of community workshops concerning race relations are available for the public to attend. The local public library has also made available a display case with books about racial violence, racial healing, tolerance and the history of lynching. And the exhibition itself is interactive--the viewing public also has the opportunity to respond to the project and leave behind letters, stories and other documentation.
This topic has long been something Storm has explored. “This isn't my first work about lynching.
I've been exploring this history for a while. My first piece about lynching, Family Values I, explored how/why hate is translated generation after generation. This particular project was born when I began to explore how lynching intersects with gender,” she explains. “While African-American men were the primary targets of lynching, keep in mind women, children and other undesirable ethnic groups (Native Americans, certain whites, etc.) were also victims.”
From some critics, lynching should not be displayed in such a medium. But Storm´s art is provoking conversation. “From my perspective, the real question is why is exploration of this topic needed. I think the recent controversy surrounding the rapper Lil' Wayne's use of Emmett Till in lyrics that many deemed offensive and the resulting public backlash and outcry is proof positive of not only the basic lack of understanding and education around the history of lynching, but also the continued pain and healing that is needed in our communities,” she explains. “I wonder if Lil' Wayne would have created those lyrics were he to view Emmett Till's life and death in the same light as Trayvon Martin. While the circumstances were different for each crime, the same social climate that devalues the lives of black boys is still paramount today as it was 57 years ago... In essence, there is a need for not only education, but healing around this topic."
Storm started her artistic journey in 1997, when she quit her job as a social worker and traveled and delved into the art world. And she now uses her art to highlight social issues.
Storm understands her art depicting lynching might be hard for the public to digest, but she stresses the importance of seeing history without blinders. "This is a difficult topic for the public to absorb. As such, the response is mixed from both extremes of loving it to hating it, from tears to clapping. Some find it offensive while others are thankful this hidden history is on display," she says.