Creative City – Stephen Hamilton: Stitched Into Memory

Public art is crucial because
public art keeps you honest. And I think that that
element of honesty and that element
of generosity is something which is incredibly
important for democratizing art. It makes you create art
that’s very much for people. [MUSIC PLAYING] My name is Stephen Hamilton. I am an educator and artist. And my life’s work
is creating work that displays and elaborates
on the cultural connections between pre-colonial Africa
and contemporary Afrodiasporic experiences. My work is about
representing not only underrepresented groups in
the images that I create but also representing
underrepresented narratives. NEFA was amazing because
they were incredibly responsive and
helpful for me when it came to writing my
proposal, specifically their Creative Cities Grant. Well, I had this idea of
doing a collaborative textile installation that would
be teaching what I learned when I was in Nigeria. I wanted to teach about
traditional weaving and dyeing traditions from West Africa
and their relationship to American industry. I was communicating with
Friends of Fort Point Channel, and I wanted it to
be on the waterfront because people aren’t
as aware that some of the first enslaved persons,
on being brought to the United States, were brought
through that port. The idea of learning how to
use these traditional art forms is reclaiming a lost
part of our heritage. All the work that you see
here, this entire installation was created by
these young people. I hope that the
students that I work with, their knowledge
of the diaspora is expanded on through
working with me, their knowledge of these
things is expanded on through creating these
collaborative artworks with me. These pieces were made on
full-size traditional looms. This is Tony, Jordan, and
Tatiana who wove these pieces. And these pieces have the
supplementary weft patterning, which is like the
brocade pattern. So this is the same
brocade pattern that you see here,
the same technique. It was an amazing
experience to see how they were able to
take their knowledge and create and design
these beautiful pieces. And then, they were
all stitched together to create the installation. [MUSIC PLAYING] I think what NEFA does
and who NEFA supports is exactly what needs to happen. Because what they’re really
thinking about is, OK, what’s going to have the
most community impact? NEFA is telling
these artists, you need to pay yourself
and be kind to yourself and make sure that
you’re giving yourself what you’re going to need
to function as an artist. One of the great things
about growing up in Roxbury is being surrounded by beautiful
examples of public art. Public art is how I found
what I wanted to do, even as a very young person. It had such a huge impact on
how I think about the world. So it’s very important
for me to create work in that public sphere. And it’s very important
that public art is funded. And it’s very
important that artists who have that as
part of their praxis receive the funding
and the support to create artwork like that. [MUSIC PLAYING]