Explore Fiber is a collaborative website showcasing and exploring fiber as a fine art material.
I continue to delve into fiber artists’ stories about how and why they use their fiber art to advocate for various issues in our world today. Connie Akers, artist and teacher, shares her story – please read on…
As a back story I had an exaggerated sense of fairness as a child and that is the probable root of my social activism. My earliest active civic involvement dates back to 1970 and my arrival at Abraham Lincoln JR-SR High in the intercity shadow of downtown Houston. The year before the principal had stolen all the monies the students had paid for yearbooks so the school was in a major upheaval with that issue and the district was juggling experienced teachers to the suburbs & putting us newbies in the areas they essentially cared less about. The beginning of my career felt a bit like being dropped into a war zone. Most of my students were black and living in single parent families with 3rd or 4th generation poverty. My own family was working class but the stories these children told often sent me home in tears of helplessness.
After getting settled a group of us, coworkers and community volunteers led by one Peace Corp trained activist, applied for & received grants for art, theatre, and music beyond what the school district provided. It was a bright spot in a sea of despair to work with artists who the students could identify with and emulate. After 2 years of teaching Junior High Art I had the opportunity to move to Sterling HS and was asked to build an extracurricular art program along with my regular classes. I was there 3 years when I became pregnant and could not start the school year in that “condition” per 1970’s policy.
In the late 1970’s in Houston as a mostly “stay at home” mom with some private teaching I became involved in church, neighborhood & city wide actions toward maintaining viable neighborhoods & implementing flood control in the downstream areas of the city, otherwise known as the Barrios or slums by the Powersthatbe. One of the lessons I learned in those years is the importance of “attention” and I could use my art to do that. My inspirations were Jean Ray Laury and Corita Kent, both activist artists.
Because there was never enough money in public school budgets I was always looking for ways to stretch and from my earliest days in the classroom I scrounged yarns and fabrics. I come from a long line of stitchers; going back generations on both sides I have seen the work of my foremothers with string & thread so it has always been natural to me to stitch. In my teaching career I found it a good way for students to tell their stories which is what I believe art is about at its core.
We moved to North Texas in 1985 and were there until 2012. During most of those years my activism was through church and my childrens’s schools. I taught school in Argyle for 5 years and then worked15 years as a representative of an art materials company. While I was paid to promote materials I had the personal goal of encouraging self awareness & sufficiency in educators I met. During those years my own art returned to my roots and became more and more focused on fibers & textiles. Subjects ranged from enviroment to consmology & includes several art quilt collaborations with Lu Peters.
When I read online about “25 Million Stitches” in 2019 it spoke to me the way the AIDS Quilt had in earlier decades as well as work by such artists as Mary Fisher, who used her experience toward good. Raising awareness of the plite of displaced persons is important to me & I believe this project can move people toward greater understanding & empathy.
For me being complacent and “quiet” is not an options. I have to work to have hope and believe that if enough good people use their voice we can create positive change. For my piece I chose the hands of a few good people in my life. I think of hands as symbolic of the tangible work we value. I also added words and symbols. Most of the stitching was running stitch which I saw as “steps” refugees have to take to continue to move forward. I used color to add a sense of hope & joy in any small blessings of life.
In recent years most of my creative output was in the area of Eco Printing aligned with raising elcological awareness. I worked with 2 women partners in a business, Eco & Indigo Fiber Arts, where we produced work to sell as well as taught workshops in our processes. We have not worked since the quarrantine started & do not know what the future holds.
My other recent work addresses my political frustrations & anger as well as advocacy. In 2017 I created pink Pussy hats and posters for the women’s march which I participated in in Austin & a quilt, “Nevertheless She Persisted” to honor all women who refuse to be silenced by self righteous old white men.
While my work may begin in anger I become empowered while creating and showing it. In 2019 I created “Fences and Fear”, an art quilt about issues surrounding migrants. I was proud of the response it received in shows in San Antonio & Dallas.
I have participated in “The Tiny Pricks Project”, a public art project curated by Diana Weymar with over 1000 contributors from around the world “speaking” the words of Donald Trump onto vintage textiles. TPP is material evidence of the movement against the DT presidency. The work now numbers thousands of works and is being shown in varied venues & online.
I will continue to use stitching to speak as long as I am able. It is a form of meditation for me and helps me maintain mental & emotional balance. Stitching gives me moments of serenity in this very chaotic time.