Lesson: Ginger Brooks Takahashi: POWERSTITCH: A Forum for Community-Building

  • Grade Level: High School (9-12 grade)
  • Subject Area: Art, History, English
  • quilting forum  "an army of lovers cannot fail," 2004-ongoing.quilting forum "an army of lovers cannot fail," 2004-ongoing.
  • quilt detail "an army of lovers cannot fail," 2004-ongoing.quilt detail "an army of lovers cannot fail," 2004-ongoing.
  • quilt detail "an army of lovers cannot fail," 2004-ongoing.quilt detail "an army of lovers cannot fail," 2004-ongoing.
  • quilt detail "an army of lovers cannot fail," 2004-ongoing.quilt detail "an army of lovers cannot fail," 2004-ongoing.
  • quilt detail "an army of lovers cannot fail," 2004-ongoing.quilt detail "an army of lovers cannot fail," 2004-ongoing.
  • quilting forum  "an army of lovers cannot fail," 2004-ongoing.quilting forum "an army of lovers cannot fail," 2004-ongoing.
  • quilting forum  "an army of lovers cannot fail," 2004-ongoing.quilting forum "an army of lovers cannot fail," 2004-ongoing.

Introduction

written by Joseph Keehn II

an army of lovers cannot fail is an on-going series of quilting forums, or “POWERSTITCHES,” organized in homes, galleries, gardens, and other settings by Ginger Brooks Takahashi. Stitching on Brooks Takahashi’s all-white quilt, participants conduct and listen to readings of poetry, prose, and theory on the subjects of sex, gender, and society. The project demonstrates how historical and contemporary communities of quilting and other crafts harness key political activities of community-building and dialogue to create a sense of belonging for those who participate [1] .

Objectives

  • Students will be introduced to process-based art and its values.
  • Students will discuss community-building through the use of a forum.
  • Students will create a forum for their community to actively participate in.

Vocabulary

POWERSTITCH is a quilting forum where participants are engaged in the process of making the quilt either by sewing on the quilt or reading text aloud while the quilt is being sewn. Everyone in a “POWERSTITCH” is actively participating in the forum.
A quilting bee is a gathering of people joined together to work on the sewing of a quilt. The quilting bee was an important means of socialization for colonial and pioneer women (and men). When the women finished sewing a quilt, the hostess would cook a meal for all the families and showcase the finished quilt from that day. Following there would be dancing, games, and socializing among the families.
Freedom Quilting Bee The Freedom Quilting Bee, an outgrowth of the civil rights movement, was established in 1966, as local people were losing their incomes and sometimes their homes on local farms after registering to vote.
Rational Art is artwork that creates a social environment in which people come together to participate in a shared activity.

Materials

Ginger Brooks Takahashi’s images from the Digital Archives

Lesson Strategy

Look at an army of lovers cannot fail.

  • Describe the object that you see.
  • Does the object look like it’s complete, or does it look like it is a work in progress? How do you know this?
  • At times this work is activated by participants in quilting forums or “POWERSTITCHES.” Looking at the frame for the quilt, what evidence suggests multiple hands are being used in this work?
  • What historical images are conjured up when you think of traditional quilting bees? How does this one differ? What are its similarities with the Freedom Quilting Bee? Its differences?
  • What images do you see on this quilt?
  • Based on the images sewn, what subjects do you think the participants in a “Powerstitch” are listening to and reading?

Stitching on Brooks Takahashi’s all-white quilt, participants conduct and listen to readings of poetry, prose, and theory on the subjects of sex, gender, and society. The project demonstrates how historical and contemporary communities of quilting and other crafts harness key political activities of community-building and dialogue to create a sense of belonging for the participants. For Brooks Takahashi, quilting forums are symbolic of the same ideals upheld by her queer community. During the course of the exhibition, Brooks Takahashi will host several “POWERSTITCHES” in the Museum as Hub space. According to the artist, “the end product is not the piece, but rather the process—the informal gatherings and invaluable dialogue between friends and strangers [1] .

  • What type of intervention is the artist involved in?
  • What recent occurrences in society make this forum important?
  • What do you think is the relationship of the title to the artwork? How do the participants imply an army of lovers?

‘“An Army of Lovers Cannot Fail” appeared on banners in both Women’s Liberation and Gay Pride marches, and was also popularized by Rita Mae Brown in a poem of the early ’80s, “Sappho’s Reply,” whose last line is “An army of lovers shall not fail.” Actually, it was Plato in The Symposium who originally wrote of “an army of lovers,” referring to Theban military men who were openly involved in same-sex relationships. Doubtless Plato would have appreciated the trajectory from his praise of manly love to Hoffman’s mildly ironic reference to a stereotype about today’s lesbian and gay couples [2] .’

According to Greek legend, the Sacred Band of Thebes was an army of 150 pairs of homosexual lovers, or a total of 300 men. It was believed that the strong bond between lovers would cause them to fight even more fiercely than an army organized according to one’s family or tribe, and that a warrior would rather die in battle than disgrace his lover. They fought valiantly and fiercely in battle for nearly thirty-three years. The Sacred Band of Thebes was defeated by Phillip of Macedon and his son, Alexander the Geat, at the battle of Chaeronea.
“The beloved, when he is found in any disgraceful situation, will be pained at being detected by his lover. If there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their loves, they would be the very best governors of their own city, abstaining from all dishonour . . . For what lover would not choose rather to be seen by all mankind than by his beloved, either when abandoning his post or throwing away his arms. . . . Or who would desert his beloved or fail him in the hour of danger?” – Plato [3]

  • What is the artist’s inspiration for this work?
  • How does this fit into society?
  • How might you use the ideas of a “POWERSTITCH” in your community? What would you do?

Activity

Students will create a forum around one of their communities. Students will list out the common interests of the community and keep in mind the following questions:

  • What commonalities does the community share?
  • What issues are important to the community?
  • What is the criterion to be a member of the community?

Based on the answers to the above questions, students will answer the following questions:

  • What activities do the members participate in (singing, playing sports, leisure activities)?
  • What subject areas do the members engage with (music, art, gender, politics, popular culture, etc.)?

Students will select an activity and a subject area as their foundation for the forum. They will outline what the members will be doing (activity) and what they will be engaged with (subject matter). For example: Members of an all-women’s basketball team might be playing basketball (activity) while take turns chanting about gender rights (subject matter), or a family might be cooking dinner (activity) and take turns reading an article about an environmental issue (subject matter).

Homework

Students will implement their forum activity with their selected community and report back to the class. What conversations were initiated? What was the reception from the community?

Extending the Lesson

Other artists to consider
Ayman Ramadan
Dave McKenzie
My Barbarian
Rikrit Tiravanija
Matta Gordan Clark
Gabriel Orozco
Maurizio Cattelan
Sharon Hayes

Other exhibitions to consider
The Quilts of Gee’s Bend

Additional Resources

Museum As Hub: Six Degrees Organized by Eungie Joo [1]
Here at the GNC by Martha E. Stone [2]
The Gay Liberation Youth Movement in New York: An Army of Lovers Cannot Fail (Studies in American Popular History and Culture)
The Sacred Band of Thebes [3]
FREEDOM QUILTING BEE
The Quilts of Gees Bend

Lesson Plan: Ginger Brooks Takahashi: POWERSTITCH: A Forum for Community-Building