With Many Stories 2013 – 16 is an ongoing project of Crochet Jams, the social practice of Ramekon O’Arwisters. Crochet Jams engage the public to think differently about the role of art within community and the power of art within society. Crochet Jam—a public, art-making event that’s embracing and inclusive, with no attempt made to dictate the creative process nor judge the finished project—is meditative, liberating, and empowering.
Ramekon O’Arwisters: When I was growing up in North Carolina, I helped my paternal grandmother, Celia Jones Taylor (1896–1982) make quilts. Quilt-making with her is one of my fondest childhood memories. With her, I was embraced, important, and special. I was a little black boy hiding my queer self from my family during the harsh reality of the Jim Crow South during the 1960s and before the turbulent years of the Civil Rights Movement that spread throughout the country.
Social art practice, Crochet Jam, embodies tenderness. Crochet Jam is about bringing people together to participate in crocheting large free-form rag rugs in public, that is rooted in my cherished childhood memory. My grandmother let me add any color or pattern I wanted to her quilt. It didn’t matter if the strip of fabric that I selected did not fit the color scheme or any particular standard quilt-making pattern, that wasn’t important. Togetherness, sharing stories, and feelings while calmly quilting was important. There wasn’t any judgment, and she resisted trying to tell me which colors or patterns to add. Our quilting bees were calm, relaxing, and peaceful, just the type of atmosphere a confused little black queer boy needed when the world outside of my grandmother’s house was often negative, hostile, and unforgiving.
I decided to start a community art project that enabled groups of people to collectively work on a piece of art with a focus on relaxation and human connection, done in public with strangers. Crochet Jam is an activity that engenders compassion and warmth. I want participants to be in a creative mindset without anyone dictating the creative process nor worrying about the finished product. Crochet Jams is how I make liberation a form of art.
I live and work in San Francisco, California and was a recipient of a 2002 Artadia Award and a 2014 Eureka Fellow, awarded by the Fleishhacker Foundation, San Francisco. I have exhibited at the Luggage Store, San Francisco, California and Kato Gallery, Tokyo, Japan. I was honored with my second San Francisco Arts Commission Individual Artist Grant in 2011. I am curator of photography and video art at SFO Museum.