This “art quilt” titled “Diaspora” was created by Karen Balos, a third generation Ashkenazi Jew with a longstanding interest in African American quilts. My interest was first sparked in 1972 when I met an African American quilter in Oakland who made quilts for the occupants of her board-and-care home for mentally disabled people. Since then I’ve seen many quilts made by local quilters and was finally emboldened to take a class called “Improvisational Jazz Quilting in the African Style” taught by Rosalie Dace. This quilt is informed by these experiences as well as my background as a fiber artist, and my Russian-Jewish cultural influences.
“Diaspora” explores the experience of displacement, an experience shared by African Americans and Jews as well as other peoples. Although initially painful and negative, the African and Jewish Diasporas have led to multiple crossings, intersections, roads taken and not taken, resting places and new experiences amongst new peoples. The crossbreeding of cultures has caused an explosion of hybrid artistic creations enriched by the fusion of cultures yet maintaining the original flavors.
This quilt is a product of that fusion. It was created in the spirit of African American quilts in that the working style is improvisational, spontaneous, utilitarian and creative from start to finish. The colors are bold and vibrant. The quilt has a unique flavor. The materials used are those at hand. However, unlike African American quilts, the storyline is carried by the quilting stitches, creating roads and lines and grids leading to places and to nowhere but filled with color and life whatever the destination. In African American quilts the storyline is expressed for the most part in the construction and piecing together of blocks of color and shapes. In this quilt the pieced block is used as a base and springboard for the story that emerges in the stitching. The use of the quilting stitches to carry the storyline is an incorporation of my Russian/Jewish tradition. It is informed by the fascination I had as a child with the intricate crocheted tablecloths, beautifully knitted garments, embroidered and monogrammed napkins that were made by my great-aunts in the style of the old cultures. In my opinion this quilt is enhanced by its cross-cultural roots.