“An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times….That, to me, is my duty. And at this crucial time in our lives, when everything is so desperate, when everyday is a matter of survival;, I don’t think you can help but be involved…..We will shape and mold this country or it will not be molded and shaped at all anymore.” -- Nina Simone

 

The quilt is a response to Abel Meerpol’s poem Strange Fruit, famously sung by Billie Holiday. In 1963, The March on Washington was in support of the Civil Rights Movement advocating for equal rights and an end to racial discrimination. Long ahead of its time, Strange Fruit is often recognized as a protest song for the movement. The lyrics are intertwined with a collage of images from the March on Washington in 1963 and the March on Washington in 2020. Both events occurred on August 28th --- fifty-seven years apart. The poem describes the lynchings of African Americans during the 1930’s specifically in the American South. The lines: “Pastoral scene of the gallant South / The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth / scent of magnolia sweet and fresh / then the sudden smell of burning flesh,” shows the facade of the South’s beauty in an attempt to disregard the violence against black bodies. Magnolias are incorporated throughout the quilt partially covering up the images. Eighty-four years since the poem was published, the inhumanity of racism towards black bodies continues to haunt the country. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests during the summer of 2020 in response to police brutality and killings of Black people, the song remains relevant today.

“Strange Fruit”

Lyrics & Music by Abel Meerpool, 1937
Performed by Billie Holiday

Southern trees bearing a strange fruit 
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root 
Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze 
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees 

Pastoral scene of the gallant South 
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth 
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh 
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh. 

Here is a fruit for the crow to pluck 
For the rain to wither, for the wind to suck 
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop 
Here is a strange and bitter crop.