Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Penny Sisto and her Vision of the African Enslavement in the U.S.

I don't know if Penny handled the spirits or the spirits handled her, but something other-worldly happened!

The Carnegie Center in New Albany, Indiana opened a permanent historical exhibit documenting events in Southern Indiana and Louisville, Kentucky regarding experiences surrounding The Underground Railroad.  Penny was asked to do these quilts in conjunction with the exhibit opening.  I went opening night but the crowd was too thick for me to do more than get a feeling for both exhibits.  Last Saturday, Penny gave a gallery talk and I went.  There are 23 quilts in the exhibit and all but 2 where made since December 2nd of 2005.  That is also my youngest son's birthday and the last time I saw Penny in person he was around 6 months old and I have a photo somewhere of her holding him at an exhibit at Mary Anderson Center for the Arts.  As Penny talked about her work, I was moved to tears often and had chills several times. 

(enlarge images by clicking over them)


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I find Penny's portrayal of the human soul and spirit to be her gift in textiles, but the one above was one that I felt if I stood before it long enough the man was going to start talking to me, so I had to ask her about who he was.  When she lived in Mali she had to tell this man that his time on earth was near due to blood posioning. She said he thanked her and it struck her how few people can hear the truth without hating the truth teller.  But as I type this now, I'm wondering when is hope false?  We can only know this in hindsight, right????  And isn't it our values (intangibles and evolving as they are) that really declare hope false or real????   But his image stayed with her and she placed her image of him in this quilt.

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The quilt on the right above is entitled Requiem for Pierre Toussaint.  To read more about him: Click and Click

The center quilt on the picture on the left above pictures Jesus with angels. Penny's vision of angels are not the plump cherubs we are accustomed to seeing but the children who have suffered on earth.  There is a child there with down's syndrome, one who is malnourished, etc.

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(on right above) Light a Candle In Heaven Harriet Tubman. 

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Dscn1376 I came away knowing that her politics, spirituality, art and soul are well integrated and progressive and speaks through her work, but I can see where many, or even most, would be uncomfortable or even intimidated by her sense of being in the world.  As for me, her work, presence is a blessing. 


  1. Karoda,
    Thanks for posting the pics from the Carnegie Center. They are incredible. Only somewhat not born in this country, and with a child-like ability to portray truth and pain could illustrate the barbarism of slavery. Penny Sisto is brilliant.

  2. She is brilliant and I'm so glad you shared her because I would've never known about this.

  3. Thanks for sharing. The work is beautifully conceptualized AND beautifully executed. Wonderful :-)

  4. Oh, these are marvelous! Too much to take in at one time. Thanks, K, for posting these.

  5. Thank you for sharing photos of this incredibly profound artists vision. I am deeply moved and see my art as empty after viewing these pieces...

  6. These photos are amazing, Karoda. Thank you for sharing them.

  7. Thank you so much. These quilts are so powerful and so beautiful. She is amazing!

  8. Wow. Absolutely powerful work. Moving, emotional. What I want to be when I grow up.

  9. Beautiful and very touching work. Thank you for sharing the photos.

  10. What a visual treat! Thank you for sharing this with all of us...

  11. thank you for taking the time to put all this information up on your site. I was moved to tears by her powerful statements. The piece of Jesus, especially during Holy Week, is absolutely profound. My heart aches for all the world that is not at peace with themselves and others.