Strange Fruit: The Controversial Quilt by Indiana Artist LaShawnda Crowe Storm

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To anyone who's ever said that quiltmaking isn't a fine art, or that quilts can't cause the same controversy that often surrounds great art: Indiana-based artist Lashawnda Crowe Storm has something to show you. Her quilt of Laura Nelson, the only lynched woman to ever be photographed in America, is making headlines in her hometown of Indianapolis, where it's being displayed in the public library.

Indystar's Vic Ryckaert reports:

The piece drew some strong reactions from those who walked by the exhibit on Sunday.
"I find it very offensive," said Randolph Davison, 55, an African-American and retired serviceman from Gary. "We've been through enough and don't need remembrances like this."

Davison said a piece like this does not belong in a public library.

"It makes me want to cry," he said.

Tamara Moore, 37, a white woman from Indianapolis, was with her 7-year-old daughter, Samantha, when they came across the quilt.

Samantha seemed confused by the image, but her mother was clearly outraged by it.

"Why would they make a quilt like that? It's horrible," Moore said, who also said she didn't think it belonged in a public library.

I love that this important discussion is taking place in a library over a quilt. Would people express the same outrage over a photograph alone? Perhaps not — the artist herself says that she chose to enlarge the image to be roughly her own height, which makes her audience confront Laura Nelson as a person and not just an image. And by turning the photograph into a quilt, Crowe Storm brings all the associations we have with quiltmaking — warmth, comfort, maternal love — into the piece, so that looking at it feels familiar and almost viscerally sad, and not just provocative.

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