CraftSanity Podcast Episode 189 — The case of the phantom penis: Artist Kathy Nida responds to having quilt removed from AQS show in Grand Rapids


“I Was Not Wearing a Life Jacket” quilt by Kathy Nida

Kathy Nida is no stranger to quilt controversy. She unapologetically includes nudity in her quilts and once attracted a local news crew in Hampton, Virginia after her quilt depicting the vulnerability of homeless women shocked sensitive quilt show goers because it included a quilted vulva.

PANO_20150912_202550-01Nida has since shown her quilts in several shows around the country and has continued to feature human anatomy in her art without drawing fire – until her work was displayed in West Michigan earlier this month.

But this time it wasn’t a quilted vulva that caused the ruckus. It was allegedly something even more amazing – an absent penis.

Now for a little background. Nida had two quilts on display at the recent American Quilter’s Society Quilt Week in Grand Rapids, Michigan as part of a traveling exhibit of art quilts organized by Studio Art Quilt Associates that have been featured in a series of AQS shows. The quilts are a sampling of those featured in the book, “Art Quilt Portfolio: People and Portraits.”

Nida’s piece, “I Was Not Wearing a Life Jacket,” completed in September 2010 has been part of this national traveling exhibit of art quilts for several years.  The quilt, featuring nude females, including one giving birth at the edge of a river, was inspired by a disturbing dream and a real-life oil spill. It was on display at the AQS show in Grand Rapids along with her other quilt, “Fully Medicated” depicting the damaging effects of prescription medications on body.

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“Fully Medicated” quilt by Kathy Nida

When Nida was contacted by organizers of the traveling SAQA exhibit and told a viewer was offended by the depiction of a penis in the first quilt described above, she was perplexed.

“There’s no penis,” said Nida, 49, of El Cajon, California.

But this fact didn’t matter. The quilt was pulled from the show. Days later, Nida was told her second quilt was pulled from the traveling exhibit because it could no longer be displayed in a group of two.

Tune in to this episode of CraftSanity to hear Nida’s frustrating story, but be forewarned that some mysteries will remain after the CraftSanity theme song plays at the end of the show. We will not learn who or how many people complained about the quilt or why AQS show organizers removed it for allegedly containing something it does not. I requested an interview with those who made the decision, but the AQS spokeswoman called me back a few hours later and said, “We have no comment.”

If the AQS folks change their minds and want to explain this, they know where to find me and I’m happy to give them equal time as I strongly believe open dialog is a very good thing when aiming to maintain the trust of the legions of quilters and enthusiasts who enter their shows, attend their events and spend thousands at the vender booths. *** UPDATE: Scroll down for a statement released on Aug. 23 by AQS.***

If we want quilts to be respected on the same level as art created in other mediums, it’s critically important that quilters, quilt enthusiasts and show directors give artists the artistic freedom and respect they need to create and show their work without limitation. Quilt censorship holds us all back.

Editors Note: If you look at a quilt that doesn’t contain a penis and you see one anyway, you may want to consult your physician if the hallucination lasts more than four hours just to be safe. : )

*** UPDATE: Two days after posting this podcast and several days after requesting an interview, I received this statement via email from Bonnie Browning, Executive Show Director for AQS:

“After receiving numerous complaints from attendees about a quilt in the SAQA exhibit, AQS removed the quilt from the People & Portraits exhibit at the Grand Rapids QuiltWeek event.

Prior to removing the quilt, the feedback AQS received was not limited to one isolated comment. Attendees reached out to AQS staff at the show and via emails and phone calls to our office.

Despite the removal of this quilt, AQS was able to display more than 700 other quilts at the show for viewing by the general public in Grand Rapids.”

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