Saturday, August 28, 2010

Not Dr. King’s Promised Land

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"The Ties That Bind: JFK, MLK, RFK," 2004

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly. Psalm 1

I made the art quilt above to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Civil Rights Movement so identified with my hometown, Montgomery, Alabama. I made it to honor him alongside the other leaders in the nation such as President John F. Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy with whom he is often identified, who also had great vision on issues related to social justice and made sacrifices. It reflects my belief in the potential use of art to help promote democracy and civic engagement. In so much of the iconography of the 1960s, they emerged as a symbolic brotherhood. The 2008 film about my art, A Portrait of the Artist, also spends some time meditating on the important legacies of these unforgettable men, and the image of my art quilt that features them is positioned at the forefront of my first two print card series.

It is astonishing that the Tea Party movement would attempt to hijack and appropriate the message of the March on Washington led by Dr. King in 1963 claiming concern for civil rights. That this movement, under the leadership of Glenn Beck, would promote this message on a day like today-exactly forty-seven years after Dr. King led his historic March on Washington; exactly two years after Barack Obama received the nomination of the Democratic Party for the presidency; exactly five years after the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the Gulf area; and exactly fifty-five years after the brutal murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi-is deeply unsettling. The platform for today’s march seems especially ironic when considering that many conservative agendas have helped to weaken or reverse the major civil rights gains that were achieved through legislation such as the ruling in the Brown v. Board of Education case of 1954, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and have attacked affirmative action and promoted other reactionary policies that have led to widespread black economic and social dispossession.

All the talk in the Tea Party about taking back “their country” and turning this nation back to God, as if He would ever leave or forsake it or anyone, reflects a nativist ideology and an unsettling if unspoken belief that Obama’s election and presidency do not reflect the character of this nation or the will of God. These views are rooted in the view of citizenship, presidentialism and America itself as being definitionally "white," a view that goes back to the founding days of this nation as a republic in the late 18th century. And yet, one must ask some of the members of this self-righteous movement who spew this talk if God is at all present at their demonstrations in the racist posters that depict this president as Hitler, naked, and with bones through his nose? Is God present in Glenn Beck's remark that being under this president's administration is like being under the kind in the film "Planet of the Apes?" Let me guess. In this fantasy, he is made over and reborn in the warrior role of Charlton Heston. Olaudah Equiano is a man who has also been subjected to his share of discrediting in our time. (I stand firm in believing that this campaign that argues that he was born in South Carolina and not West Africa, would also of necessity make him a liar, even about his dear mother, and a blasphemer, if we consider the heartfelt and deeply moving passages of his narrative that relate to her in a later chapter). Equiano referred to such types as “nominal Christians.“

The efforts of the Tea Party to discredit the president and portray him as incompetent remind me of the ideological investments of Thomas Dixon’s 1905 novel The Clansman and the 1915 film based on it by D.W. Griffith, Birth of a Nation, which portrayed whites in the Reconstruction era as being tyrannized by a black majority that had gained voting rights, seized control of Congress in South Carolina, and threatened the nation with the possibility of what they feared most: “Negro rule.” The black politicians in this film are portrayed as incompetent, unscrupulous, and inept, and as lustful and rapacious. The film romanticizes the Klan and this organization becomes the answer to preventing the development of an interracial democracy in Dixon’s version of the post-bellum U.S. and helps to restore national unity and the division between North and South brought on by the Civil War.

Elements of the Tea Party movement are disturbing on some levels to the extent that aspects of its ideology recast the panic about black leadership in this nation that has long existed, and that is evident in these popular works. America is still America and even the Tea Party members are safe with a black man, Barack Obama, as president. It is sad that some of them refuse to believe that he is capable of working in their interests or capable of representing them, no matter what he says or does, because of the color of his skin. One would think that the earth had floated off its axis or that the sky was falling from the panic that some people are revealing because he is in office. And there are far too many Chicken Littles out there all too willing to help fan the flames of propaganda these days. This kind of intolerance and hatred will not help this nation. If we are truly in any danger, this movement, at least so far, has lacked the vision to help save it and if anything, has perpetuated divisions.

The black participation is not alone evidence that the movement opposes racism. Blacks internalize racism, and sometimes take sides against themselves. The Tea Party’s invocation of the belief in a “colorblind” and “postracial” America to attempt to claim commonality with Dr. King also rings hollow. These concepts have most frequently been mobilized to obstruct the recognition of persisting racism in this nation and have worked against the interests of people of color. The Tea Party investment in them suggests all the more that its view of Dr. King is superficial. Dr. King's movement on the capitol was about tackling persisting poverty. Dr. King believed in social justice. To oppose the concept of "social justice," to the point of not even wanting to hear the word mentioned, is to reject one of the basic values in which Dr. King believed. It was bad enough to have neoconservatives trope his words and his message so banally in the attacks on affirmative action, and to see it casually mentioned in the titles of books with reactionary messages that were in clear opposition to the legacy of civil rights. I never imagined that the distortions would go as far as what happened today. This really takes the cake. Today, if anyone feels like the sky is falling or like the planet is rotating off its axis, it's certainly not Glenn Beck. It's me, and other people like me. It is crucial to have space for dissent in the U.S. public sphere, and to protect First Amendment rights. Glenn Beck’s promised land is not King’s promised land. Let freedom ring, but ring true.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Feature in Photograph Exhibition on Black Debutantes at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery, Alabama, May 2009

"I like a debutante, who comes across
Now that's what I call class."
Louis, "Prowlin'," from Grease 2 (1982)

The annual National Sorority of Phi Delta Kappa souvenior book has usually included a profile image of a debutante with her hair up and in silhouette over the years, as pictured above; Keri is invoking that pose in the first shots below.

Photos taken by Keri Smith and Megan Smith on the afternoon of "Talk and Tea" at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, including images of our debutante photos and the quilt of Keri featured in the display

Vanity table featuring debutante and other cotillion and formal portraits of women in family spanning over decades

Riche' Deianne Richardson, Age 17, Debutante presentation at the Montgomery Civic Center in Cotillion of the National Sorority of Phi Delta Kappa, Inc., Beta Beta Chapter, Montgomery, AL, April 1989

Keri Diamond Smith, Age 17, Debutante presentation at the Montgomery Civic Center in Cotillion of the National Sorority of Phi Delta Kappa, Inc., Beta Beta Chapter, Montgomery, AL, April 2004

Megan Cheree Smith, Age 17, Debutante presentation at the Joe L. Reed Acadome in Cotillion of the National Sorority of Phi Delta Kappa, Inc., Beta Beta Chapter, Montgomery, AL, April

My debutante photo from the program booklet, April, 1989

My cousin Keri Smith's debutante photo from the program booklet, April, 2004

My cousin Megan Smith's debutante photo from the program booklet, April, 2006

Art quilt featuring Keri Diamond Smith that reproduces debutante program portrait

Newspaper feature in the Montgomery Advertiser including Keri and her escort during the minuet. To see larger debutante family album on Facebook, go to

It was an honor that the original debutante photographs of my cousin Megan Smith and me (above) were selected and featured in an exhibition of 20 enlarged photographs at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival on May 15, 2009 and throughout the weekend as part of the Southern Writers' Project Festival of Plays, along with the art quilt from my debutante series (within my family series) that reproduces the debutante program portrait of her sister and my cousin, Keri Smith. This photographic exhibition, which also incorporated some art pieces, was put together in tandem with an event entitled “Tea and Talk” for the debut reading of acclaimed author/playwright Pearl Cleage's "The Nacirema Society Requests the Honor of Your Presence at a Celebration of Their First One Hundred Years." The goal was to highlight images of black debutantes in Montgomery, Alabama across several decades, beginning in the 1940s. The featuring of several vintage debutante dresses helped to make the exhibition more dynamic. My family attended this reading at ASF, along with many others in the Montgomery community. This powerful exhibition was curated by Soyia Ellison. It also came together with the assistance of Johnson Chong. It is exciting that this much-anticipated play is being staged in Montgomery this fall, whose description is copied below.

The Nacirema Society Requests the Honor of Your Presence at a Celebration of Their First One Hundred Years

by Pearl Cleage

In the 1960s, burning issues dominated the news; however in Montgomery, Alabama the Black debutante society was alive. Pearl Cleage’s production starring Jasmine Guy gives well and worthy comedic treatment to the timeless clash of youthful generations.

The Alabama Shakespeare Festival is excited to open its Silver Anniversary Season with the world premiere of renowned playwright Pearl Cleage's comedy The Nacirema Society Requests the Honor of Your Presence at a Celebration of Their First One Hundred Years. With the world's eyes on Montgomery, Alabama during the turbulent 1960s there were those in Black debutante society who had eyes only on beautiful dresses, balls, parties -- and the young ladies about to be introduced to the upper crust of African-American society.

The Nacirema Society boasts an incredible cast of actors including Tony Award-winning Trazana Beverly and television, film and Broadway star Jasmine Guy.

I was also presented at several other major social events during my junior and senior years of high school, including the Coronation Ball at my school, the historic St. Jude Educational Institute, but the debutante cotillion was for me the culminating event. When she was interviewing me for her book "Crafted Lives," Patricia A. Turner had me count the number of formal events I attended and for which I needed formal attire in high school and they totaled fifteen from 9th to 12th grades. I think that this background informs what I do now as an artist in the sense that one reason I can do the costuming for the gowns on my quilts (i.e. Scarlett O'Hara, Michelle Obama, the debutante quilts) is that I actually wore so many growing up. We shopped for debutante dresses in a range of places, including Atlanta and Birmingham, and in the months leading up to the ball, I tried on forty gowns. We finally found the right one two weeks before the event at Gayfers Department Store in Montgomery, which got many compliments the night of the ball and was talked about for days thereafter.

At the party later that night, I heard a guy refer to me as “the girl that was wearing that dress.” One of my classmates at school excitedly described it to someone by saying that “it had layers and layers and layers of ruffles!” I'd been a bit sleepy late that Friday night that I tried it on in the fitting room and was just pleased and relieved that we'd finally found a dress as I vaguely heard my mother talk to the sales person about how stunning it was and the seamstress began to pin it for alterations. My escort's reaction to it when he picked me up and his excitement about it in the car as we drove down to the Civic Center was when the dress began to become real for me, and I began to sense the impact that it was making, a feeling only escalated as the night went on. One of my other male friends who was an escort in the ball joked that he didn't see me when I was presented because some escorts who were at the backstage curtain were blocking his way and trying to get a look as I went up on the platform. The dress seems positively Victorian by today's standards when spaghetti straps and even strapless styles predominate in the styling of formal gowns for teens, but back then, the dress pushed the envelope a little with its neckline. The most interesting thing about it was the homemade touch, for my mom took some scraps from the bottom and made matching edging to trim my gloves, which I now display in my art studio. (Always, the debutante dresses in my family have been given a special touch; Megan had also worn her dress as first attendant to Miss Senior in St. Jude's Coronation ball, and so made straps out of mesh to make it interesting for her debut a few months later). Some people who had been at the ball talked about my dress, or described it to the people who were not there, to the point that I got tired of hearing about it eventually. I finally escaped from it all though my trip away to Hampton a few days later to see the campus.

In Hampton, Virginia a week after Debutante Cotillion

Nearly sixty debutantes were presented the night I came out, and my escort and I led the minuet, which was choreographed by Sheyann Webb-Christburg, author of the book "Selma Lord Selma" highlighting her childhood encounter with Martin Luther King, which was also made into a Disney Film. She has done amazing choreography annually for this cotillion in Montgomery, as well as others. I most recently saw her work at the Miss Fashionetta contest prior to Ebony Fashion Fair in 2009. Incidentally, my escort was the very friend and classmate whom I pictured as my escort someday when I attended the ball at age 11. I first attended the Phi Delta Kappa debutante cotillion at age 5 when my aunt came out, and also as a participant as a sophomore and junior debutante. I made the court the night that I came out and was honored and surprised to be showered with so many gifts, piled literally up to my chin, from my official "little sisters," and even from people who were not. To this day, this has been one of the happiest days of my life. One thing about that night is that almost everybody that I loved in the world was there.

Finally, I have to mention the scene from the film "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," which shows the crashing of Natalie's cotillion at the country club as the song "Wake Up the Neighborhood" plays, and after her invitation is photocopied and distributed to the public.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Crafted Lives: Stories and Studies of African American Quilters by Patricia A. Turner

Chapter 7 of this remarkable nine-chapter study of African American quilters by Patricia A. Turner, "The Ties That Bind," offers biographical material on Riche Richardson as an artist, focusing mainly on critical discussion of the art quilt featuring John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy. This book features an excellent foreword by noted African American quilter and quilting archivist and historian Kyra Hicks. See her excellent blog on African American quilting Professor Turner also offers the scholarly commentary for the short film "A Portrait of the Artist" and an introductory essay entitled "Home to Montgomery: Riche Richardson's Portraits," for the catalog accompanying the "Portraits From Montgomery to Paris" exhibition in 2008 at Troy University's Rosa Parks Museum Gallery and Library

Portrait of the Artist Part 1, by Anne Cremieux and Geraldine Chouard

Short film (22 min.), which was made in Paris in 2007 and released in 2008, highlights the art quilts of Riche Richardson and features interview with the artist, an interview with the noted folklorist Patricia A. Turner who offers scholarly commentary, and the acclaimed Paris quilter Diane De Obaldia

Riche Richardson Art Prints Photographed by Keith Stevenson and Film Poster by Anne Cremieux and Geraldine Chouard for "A Portrait of the Artist"

Image of art quilt featuring Barack Obama, which was also part of the "Quilts for Obama" exhibition at the Washington DC Historical Society curated by Roland Freeman that ran through September 2009; companion of art quilt entitled "The Magnificient Michelle Obama"

"Obama Time: Always (Congratulations, Mr. President!)"
Political Series
By Riche' Deianne Richardson
Special Edition Print Card
Released on occasion of talk and reception at the Ambassador's Residence arranged by the U.S. Embassy in Paris, France, January 14, 2008
For "Un Patchwork de Cultures"
Photography by Keith Stevenson

"JoAnn and 'Junior Man': Easter Sunday, Montgomery, Alabama, 1954"
Family Series
By Riche' Deianne Richardson
Print Card 2 of 8
Photography by Keith Stevenson

"Riche' Deianne Richardson: Graduation Picture at St. Jude Educational Institute of 'The City of St. Jude'(The Last Camping Place for Selma-to-Montgomery Marchers in 1965)"
Print Card 8 of 8
Photography by Keith Stevenson

"The Ties That Bind: JFK,MLK,RFK"
Politcal Series
By Riche' Deianne Richardson
Print Card 1 of 8
Photography by Keith Stevenson

"A Tie, Too?: Malcolm X"
Political Series
By Riche' Deianne Richardson
Print Card 7 0f 8
Photography by Keith Stevenson

"Playing Venus Hot to Trot?": Josephine Baker"
(Commemorating 100 Years, 1906-2006)
Paris Series
By Riche' Deianne Richardson
Print Card 4 of 8
Photography by Keith Stevenson

"Remembering a Dutiful Daughter: Simone de Beauvoir"
(Commemorating 100 Years, 1908-2008)
Paris Series
By Riche' Deianne Richardson
Print Card 3 of 8
Photography by Keith Stevenson

"Playing 'Mammy': Not Hattie McDaniel!"
Hollywood Series
By Riche' Deianne Richardson
Print Card 6 of 8
Photography by Keith Stevenson

"Sweet Scarlett?: Vivien Leigh Playing Southern Belle"
Hollywood Series
By Riche' Deianne Richardson
Print Card 5 of 8
Photography by Keith Stevenson

The twenty-two minute short film "A Portrait of the Artist" on the art quilts of Riche' Richardson was taped on location in Paris in June of 2007, released in 2008, and can be viewed in three sections on YouTube. It premiered in May of 2008 at a conference on the U.S. South in Montpellier, France. It has been screened in a number of locations in Paris, including le musee de la toile de Jouy, the Mairie du 5e in tandem with the national touring exhibition "Un Patchwork de Cultures," the U.S. Ambassador's Residence, the Southern Studies Forum Meeting (Versailles/Paris): The Sense(s) of the South," and several universities. In the U.S., the film was premiered at the Rosa Parks Museum Gallery and Library at the opening reception of "Portraits from Montgomery to Paris" held on August 21, 2008. The film was completed with support from the U.S. Embassy in Paris and all participants attended the formal screening at the U.S. Ambassador's Residence, including the filmmakers Geraldine Chouard and Anne Cremieux, Riche' Richardson, Patricia A. Turner, who offered scholarly commentary, and Diane De Obaldia, a former Chanel fashion model and owner of the famed Le Rouvray quilting shop and gallery in Paris near Notre Dame.

Art Print cards have included images of print card set of 4 released in 2007 with 400cards in circulation distinguished by the artist's name banners on front and back, all complimentary, and now discontinued. The print card set of 8 was released in 2008 and totaled 1200 cards available. The third, a Special Print Card Edition of 250 featuring President Obama, was released in 2009 in tandem with the trip to Paris as a Cultural Envoy of the U.S. Embassy and participation in the Paris opening of the "Un Patchwork de Cultures" national exhibition. Some Obama print cards were donated to the guidance cousnelor for distribution to students at E.D. Nixon Elementary School in Montgomery who had attended the field trip to the Rosa Parks Museum Gallery and Library in 2008 to see "Portraits From Montgomery to Paris." No more of the original Obama print cards are available. The number of print cards produced so far totals 1850.

The card sets have been fun to produce. Photo shoots were set up on the balcony at my high rise apartment in downtown Sacramento, California or in Berkeley at Keith's, where my quilts were always shot against the amazing backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge! We also did one public photo shoot on the UC Davis campus during Black Family Weekend in 2007, which students enjoyed. This photo shoot was also filmed by student filmmaker Jamon Larry and an assistant. The 5x7 cards are designed in postcard format with information about the title, series, artist and photographer on the back. The print card sets are composed very carefully and balanced and modeled on a "call and response" format that juxtaposes images that are in ideological tension in some way. The evening of the reception at the Rosa Parks Museum Gallery and Library was very busy with the gallery talk, attending the debut of the film "A Portrait of the Artist" and mingling with guests, and since the catalog for the show was on hand, we suspended sales and very few of these print card sets were sold that night. Of the 150 full sets, 50 complimentary sets were originally distributed nationally in tandem with the exhibition. Though one or two print cards and perhaps a poster will continue to be released with each show, along with small sets featuring special series, a print card set of this size and scope will not accompany future art quilt exhibitions, so this one is destined to be rare as well.

This set of eight "postcard" prints produced in tandem with "Portraits: From Montgomery to Paris" is still available at its original price for $10, plus $3.00 for shipping and handling, and can be purchased by forwarding a request to and mailing a check for $13.00 to the following address:

The Wagon Wheel
c/o The Flare Exchange
P.O. Box 6463
Montgomery, AL 36106

Cards are not sold or available separately. Checks should be made payable to Riche Richardson. Please allow three weeks for delivery after payment is received and processed. A more comprehensive selection of cards featuring my quilts will be produced and marketed at some point, along with some other items. Also, once this enterprise is developed fully and recovers the orignal investments related to production overhead for these sets, for which the photographer also receives a share, it will be one that "tithes double" on any profits, or 20% of the earnings, and contribute them to community and education initiatives. The same holds true for all art quilts sold.

"Portraits: From Montgomery to Paris," Debut Art Quilt Exhibition, July-September, 2008, Rosa Parks Museum Gallery and Library, Montgomery, AL

Exhibition catalog

Museum gallery sign describing exhibition

DVD cover design and copy of poster art advertisement for "A Portrait of the Artist"

Photographs of Art Quilts Installed in Gallery Room at Rosa Parks Museum Gallery and Library Taken Night of Reception, August 21, 2008 by Cyrinthia Walker (Missing Image of Simone de Beauvoir Quilt)

Art Quilt Exhibition Preliminary Overview: "Portraits from Montgomery to Paris"
Artist: Riché Deianne Richardson

from Family Series #1, Including Wedding, Graduation/Education, and Debutante Series, Three Installations, and Artist Self Portraits

1. "Sunday Afternoon on Palafax Street in Pensacola, Florida during WWII: Joe Richardson"
2. "Sunday Afternoon on Palafax Street in Pensacola, Florida during WWII: Emma Lue
Jenkins Richardson"
3. "JoAnn and 'Junior Man': Easter Sunday, Montgomery, Alabama, 1954"(Installation)
4. "Pam's Graduation from First Grade at Mrs. Drake's"(Installation)
5. " JoAnn Richardson: Graduation Picture at Booker Washington High School"
6. "Joseph Richardson: Graduation Picture at Booker Washington High School"
7. "Pamela Richardson: Graduation Picture at Jefferson Davis High School"
8. "The Honeymooners: Celebrating 47 Years: Emma Richardson"
9. "The Honeymooners: Celebrating 47 Years: Joe Richardson"
10. "Riché Deianne Richardson: Graduation Picture at St. Jude Educational Institute of 'The City of St. Jude' (The Last Camping Place for Selma-to-Montgomery Marchers in 1965)" Self-Portrait
11. Riché Deianne Richardson, Age 17: Debutante Cotillion Program Portrait, 1989" Self-Portrait
12 "'Head and Shoulders Knees and Toes!': Keri and Megan-School Days at St. John-Resurrection"(Installation)
13. "Keri Diamond Smith, Age 17: Debutante Cotillion Program Portrait, 2004"
14. "Megan Chereé Smith, Age 17: Debutante Cotillion Program Portrait, 2006"

from Paris Series #1

15. "Playing Venus Hot to Trot?: Josephine Baker"(Commemorating 100 years, 1906-2006)
16. "Remembering a Dutiful Daughter: Simone de Beauvoir" (Commemorating 100 years, 1908-2008)

from Political Series #1

17. "The Ties that Bind: John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy"
18. "A Tie, Too?": Malcolm X"

from Hollywood Series # 1

19. "Playing 'Mammy': Not Hattie McDaniel!"
20. "Sweet Scarlett?: Vivien Leigh Playing Southern Belle"