Some artists are rebels at heart. Today’s guest, Jo-Ann Morgan, found her inner iconoclast as professor emeritus of African American studies and art history at Western Illinois University. Jo-Ann is also a professional fiber artist and one among six winners of NOT REAL ART’s 2022 artist grant. Established in 2019, the grant is awarded annually to six working artists who push the boundaries of what’s possible in the art world. Today, host and NOT REAL ART founder Scott “Sourdough” Power sits down with Jo-Ann Morgan to discuss the evocative fiber work that netted her a spot as one of last year’s grant winners.
“I usually don't like to talk about work until it's done,” says Jo-Ann, whose elaborate wall hangings are lovingly stitched in remembrance of violence victims. Works like “Daddy Changed the World” and “Elegy for Elijah” commemorate George Floyd and Elijah McClain, who both recently died at the hands of police in separate encounters. Similarly, "Lady Corona Comforts the Children" depicts a maternal apparition who watches over the children separated from their parents at the US/Mexico border.
“There's always something going on that is worthy of remembering,” says Jo-Ann, who adopted her signature social justice art after becoming an art historian. “I learned a lot from researching the African American artists of the late sixties,” she says, explaining her urge to rebel against the dominant “Western traditions” typically taught in art school. The artists she studied as a historian made a concerted effort to avoid “Neoclassical art, to develop their own vocabulary, way of working, themes, subject matter that was germane to the African American experience.”