Chris Jordan on Needlework Sampler

Chris Jordan on Needlework Sampler

Chris Jordan on Needlework Sampler

Listen to local artist Chris Jordan discuss how Charlotte Turner's Needlework Sampler connects to themes of the Figuring History exhibition

Chris Jordan on Needlework Sampler

Chris Jordan on Needlework Sampler

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Transcript

My name's Chris Jordan, I'm a public artist and painter from Tacoma, Washington.

This needlework sampler is the kind of thing that you might just walk past, you know it, it appears so innocent and almost like nonchalant on the surface. But, engaging with it as history gets you so absorbed, so caught up in it, you find yourself obsessing over every detail. This object, created by a young girl who was renamed Charlotte Turner, she was on a ship of enslaved Africans that was intercepted because the trade of enslaved people was no longer legal. And Charlotte, though she was from Nigeria, she ended up in Sierra Leone, in some boarding school type situation, and this is a piece of work that she created when she was 10 years old just to indicate that she had been sufficiently educated according to her teachers, school system, so on and so forth.

As a painter myself, I think of paintings and sculptures as objects that can contain questions and transmit those questions from our time into the future.

The object brings up questions about black children that are hostages to a Eurocentric education system. You're scouring the surface, looking through every detail, trying to find some kind of encoded message, some kind of defying factors, some kind of way that Charlotte wove her own agency into the surface of the piece for you to be able to know or rest your soul on the idea that she resisted, or that she was in a position to resist. Maybe she created like seven different needlework samplers before this one that says, "f you, I hate this," you know, and then eventually she came down to settle on this one. You just want some evidence of Charlotte's deviance in there because you want to reassure yourself about something. It says some more about us than it does about Charlotte.

Charlotte has really given us a portrayal of the history and the present that we're up against. I see this object as something very contemporary, I see it as something that raises great questions for the artists about decolonizing excellence, and what does it mean, and who do we serve, as we weave ourselves into reality, into history. Maybe 400 hundred years down the road someone will see my painting and ask, how in the hell could this person consider themselves free? Charlotte X has participated, unwillingly perhaps, but in a really powerful way in the tradition of existing outside the frame that so many black artists continue to be a part of. In terms of Figuring History, Charlotte kind of shows us square one, and how we're still there, and if that's not a powerful work of art, you know, I don't know what is.

What does it actually truly mean to be educated? What would it mean to decolonize the idea of being educated?

LOW/NO VISION TRANSCRIPT

You are listening to a verbal description of the artwork intended for someone with low to no vision.

Needlework Sampler, created in 1831 by Charlotte Turner. Silk on wool, just over one foot tall by 10 inches wide.

This is an embroidered cream fabric, displayed in a thick wooden frame. A border of grey leaves and a red bud on a wavy teal vine encircles the whole fabric, which is then split into three sections of brown embroidered text and colorful designs.

The top section features the alphabet and numbers 1 through 10 written in brown capital cursive letters. A decorative green line of waves separates the top line of A through L from M through W, and after the line of X through 10, the section completes below with a smaller line of the whole alphabet and numbers written in a red lower-case serif font.

A line of leaves on a lighter teal line separates the middle section from the top. The middle section features the following passage in brown lettering: "1 Lord teach a little child to pray, My heart with love inflame, That evry night and evry day I may adore thy same. 2 My bible says that Jesus died For sinners old and young, I am a sinner though a child, But babes thy praise have sung." Branches of leaves and vines of green flowers decorate both sides of this script.

A faint grey line separates the middle section from the bottom. The bottom section features matching brown lettering as follows: "Liberated African Charlotte Turner Aged 10 years Bathurst Sierra Leone 1831." And script capital letters "C" and "B" anchor the block of text at the bottom center, and "March 18th" is on the lower right. Blue and white checkered baskets and red crosses mirror both sides of the lettering, as well as a teal peacock with blue feet, a green evergreen tree shape, and a brown quail in the lower left corner, and another matching peacock in the lower right corner.

Now, here's an interpretive analysis of this artwork.

My name's Chris Jordan, I'm a public artist and painter from Tacoma, Washington.

This needlework sampler is the kind of thing that you might just walk past, you know it, it appears so innocent and almost like nonchalant on the surface. But, engaging with it as history gets you so absorbed, so caught up in it, you find yourself obsessing over every detail. This object, created by a young girl who was renamed Charlotte Turner, she was on a ship of enslaved Africans that was intercepted because the trade of enslaved people was no longer legal. And Charlotte, though she was from Nigeria, she ended up in Sierra Leone, in some boarding school type situation, and this is a piece of work that she created when she was 10 years old just to indicate that she had been sufficiently educated according to her teachers, school system, so on and so forth.

As a painter myself, I think of paintings and sculptures as objects that can contain questions and transmit those questions from our time into the future.

The object brings up questions about black children that are hostages to a Eurocentric education system. You're scouring the surface, looking through every detail, trying to find some kind of encoded message, some kind of defying factors, some kind of way that Charlotte wove her own agency into the surface of the piece for you to be able to know or rest your soul on the idea that she resisted, or that she was in a position to resist. Maybe she created like seven different needlework samplers before this one that says, "f you, I hate this," you know, and then eventually she came down to settle on this one. You just want some evidence of Charlotte's deviance in there because you want to reassure yourself about something. It says some more about us than it does about Charlotte.

Charlotte has really given us a portrayal of the history and the present that we're up against. I see this object as something very contemporary, I see it as something that raises great questions for the artists about decolonizing excellence, and what does it mean, and who do we serve, as we weave ourselves into reality, into history. Maybe 400 hundred years down the road someone will see my painting and ask, how in the hell could this person consider themselves free? Charlotte X has participated, unwillingly perhaps, but in a really powerful way in the tradition of existing outside the frame that so many black artists continue to be a part of. In terms of Figuring History, Charlotte kind of shows us square one, and how we're still there, and if that's not a powerful work of art, you know, I don't know what is.

What does it actually truly mean to be educated? What would it mean to decolonize the idea of being educated?