“I really like thinking about how things affect people generationally,” said Bréana Parks, a photographer and artist based in Oakland, California. “And Black photographers—we look at our familiar spaces first.”
Bréana was a photographer for Quiltfolk, Issue 27: California Bay Area, where she got a firsthand look at the work of Uzoma Samuel, a textile artist from Nigeria featured in the issue. But her own quilting experience came well before her assignment.
Inspired by an episode of the TV show Summer Camp Island, where a young witch must look back to the generations before her to learn what is blocking her powers, Bréana embarked on a project to understand the trauma held by the women in her family. The year-long multimedia exploration included portraiture, a book of original poetry, and a quilt.
“I’d never quilted before,” said Bréana. “But the building block [of the project] was to make a quilt because, traditionally, a lot of Black people have used spare materials to create something out of nothing in terms of storytelling.” For her own quilt, she gathered important clothing from the women in her family, including her mother’s wedding dress, her maternal grandmother’s nightgown, her paternal grandmother’s church dress, and the dress her great-great-grandmother wore for graduations as a teacher. To connect herself to the narrative, Bréana added her own high school prom dress. The quilt was then assembled in such a way that each mother’s piece of clothing touches the fabric of her daughter.
“When I got my grandma’s fabric, I hadn’t seen her, smelled her, heard her voice in 10 years,” said Bréana. “When I brought her fabric home, I instantly started crying because I hadn’t smelled her in so long, and it felt so nostalgic.” The moment inspired one of the poems included in the project’s collection.
In the center of the quilt is a fetus with an umbilical cord. The fetus is composed of a photographic collage of all the women featured in the quilt, transferred onto fabric, and the umbilical cord connecting it to the rest of the quilt is Bréana’s prom dress material.
The red thread used to stitch the quilt together is intentional, symbolizing the generational bloodlines.
Woven in among the dresses are other symbolic patterns. There are pieces of a baby blanket pattern with butterflies and bunnies—the former associated with spiritual experiences with her grandmother and the latter a fertile creature that connects back to the theme of women carrying the next generation forward. Bréana also incorporated pieces of a sablay, a Filipino garment typically worn by women working in rice fields, in honor of her family there.
With the thoughtfulness and care that went into creating this piece, it comes as quite a shock that this was Bréana’s first quilt. She learned the basics from a friend in a single weekend before launching her project at home.
Future projects may continue to incorporate different types of fabric arts, but the photographer thinks she may keep quilting as a personal endeavor. She hopes to make another quilt or learn how to create a quilted jacket to help ward off the Bay Area’s ever-present chill.
“I love a good challenge,” said Bréana. “And quilting is a challenge.”
Bréana’s quilt Many Moons, is set to be featured in an upcoming exhibition, “Closeness,” hosted at the Your Moon Gallery in Dogpatch, San Francisco. This exceptional showcase of artistic expression is scheduled to grace the gallery’s walls and captivate the imagination of art enthusiasts and the community alike, on October 14th, 2023, from 6 PM to 8 PM.
“Closeness,” curated by Blanca Bercial, is a thoughtfully curated exhibition, pays homage to the enchanting world of photographic portraiture, a medium that beautifully captures the essence of human emotion, connection, and intimacy.
To stay up-to-date with the latest developments in Breana’s creative endeavors and gain a deeper insight into her artistic journey, follow her captivating and inspiring path by connecting with her on Instagram, where she shares updates and behind-the-scenes glimpses of her work.
About the Author
Mel Burke is a culture writer in the San Francisco Bay Area where she lives with her husband and dog. When she’s not writing, she loves complaining about hiking and visiting cities with historic libraries. You can find her online everywhere as @melburkewrites.