Carolyn Mazloomi is among the most influential African American quilt historians and quilt artists of the twenty-first century. Her desire to tell the African American experience in cloth fueled her exploration in appliqué and narrative quilts. Consistent with the African American folklore tradition of storytelling, Mazloomi is a “fabric griot.”
She frequently creates in series form to convey the multiple stories within her chosen subject. Mazloomi’s quilts evoke the warmth of family, the celebration of life, and the realities of social and racial injustice. Widely exhibited in the United States and internationally, Mazloomi’s quilts can be found in many museum collections such as the Smithsonian American Museum of Art, the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center, the National Civil Rights Museum, the Mint Museum of Craft and Design, the American Museum of Art and design, and the Wadsworth Museum.
In 1985 Mazloomi founded the Women of Color Quilters Network (which includes men), to promote inclusiveness in African American quilt making. As a veteran 1960’s political activist, Mazloomi believes art should make people think about such historical and social conditions as slavery, and the treatment of dispossessed peoples throughout the world. She considers quilts “visual soul food” and a spiritual experience for the viewer. In addition to her artistic contributions to African American folk art, Mazloomi organizes African American quilters through a national outreach program to educate them about the cultural significance and monetary value of their artistic contributions, and to acknowledge their role as primary transmitters of cultural, political, social, and spiritual values.
In 1998 Mazloomi published Spirits of the Cloth: Contemporary African American Quilts to provide important insight into the narrative works of contemporary African American quilters. Her ethnographic interviews with the quilt makers, whose works appear in the book, give them a voice to tell their own stories. The study constitutes a challenge to scholars who without intending to denigrate African American quilters nevertheless adversely impacted the black community of quilt makers because their narrowly defined criteria for African American quilt aesthetics excluded the larger more diverse body of works. Mazloomi’s work gave other African American “fabric griots” an opportunity to express ties to Africa, familial memories, healing and sacred connections, social and political protests, spiritual praises, and black female empowerment. Mazloomi’s scholarship forces others to rethink notions of African American quilts and the black aesthetic.
In 2004 her second major text, Threads of Faith: Recent Works from the Women of Color Quilters Network, was published by the Museum of Biblical Art (New York City). This catalog is a powerful testament to the spiritual connection some African American quilters make between their quilts and the process of quilt making itself. The quilts and the quilters are exemplary of the diversity of artistic styles within the African American community. Mazloomi captures the multiple ways in which these quilters demonstrate that quilts exceeding the narrow parameters of some scholars are produced in equal numbers, and particularly by members of the Women of Color Quilters Network, nearly 1,700 quilters strong.
In 2007 Dr. Mazloomi wrote a book that links two traditional African American art forms, jazz and quilts. A traveling exhibition based on her book, Textural rhythms: Constructing the Jazz Tradition will travel the United States through 2011. Celebrating visionary female artists was the theme of National Women’s History Month in 2008. In honor of the occasion Dr. Mazloomi curated and wrote a catalogue for the exhibition Quilting African American Women’s History: Our Challenges, Creativity, and Champions. The exhibition opened at the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in historic Wilberforce, Ohio and is currently touring the country.
Tokyo, Japan was the setting for the opening of Mazloomi’s next major touring exhibition and book, Journey of Hope: Quilts Inspired by President Barack Obama. The exhibition will travel the United States for two years. In 2011 Dr. Mazloomi’s sixth book on African American quilts, Quilting a Culture: African American Quilters of Ohio will be published by Ohio University Press.
Dr. Mazloomi was awarded the first Ohio Heritage Fellowship Award in 2003. Ohio Heritage Fellows are among the state’s living cultural treasures. Fellows embody the highest level of artistic achievement in their work, and the highest level of service in the teaching and other work they do in their communities to ensure that their artistic traditions stay strong. Mazloomi has been involved in the economic development of women through the arts for over twenty-five years. Her organization, WCQN, has been recognized by the International Labour Department in Geneva and the United Nations for its developmental programs to help advance women.