Sanford Biggers Gives Antique Quilts New Meaning In His ‘Codeswitch’ Speed Art Museum Exhibit

This week, the Speed Art Museum opens its “Sanford Biggers: Codeswitch” exhibit. The exhibit is a survey of quilted works by the New York-based artist. The show will feature more than 30 of his quilt-based works. The show will run from March 18 through June 26. 

Sanford Biggers is an artist that has been building his portfolio around African American history and traditions. Biggers maintains a connection to larger contemporary art issues that exist on a national and international level. His work references urban culture, the body, sacred geometry and American symbolism. 

From the release: 

“The title of the exhibition, Codeswitch, refers to both the artist’s quilt series known as the Codex series and to the idea of code-switching itself, or shifting from one linguistic code to another depending on the social context. The Codex series includes mixed me-dia paintings and sculptures done directly on or made from antique quilts. This process, like linguistic code-switching, recognizes language plurality, as the quilts signal their original creator’s intent as well as the new layers of meaning given to them through Biggers’ artistic intervention. 

“Sanford Biggers’s quilt-based work is deeply informed by his appreciation of quilts and their original makers, recognizing the multi-layered histories they assume over the decades,” said Scott Erbes, the Speed’s Curator of Decorative Arts and Design. “His masterful interventions add new meanings and generate new dialogues with this iconic American art form.” 

LEO managed to grab a few words from the Speed’s Curator of Decorative Arts and Design, Scott Erbes, via email. 

He told us about the Speed continuing their relationship with Biggers and how the local audience will find connection with Biggers’ work. 

LEO: Sanford Biggers is one of the most important contemporary artists working right now. Talk to me about how important it is for The Speed Museum to have his work.

 Scott Erbes: We are so pleased to be able to share Sanford Biggers: Codeswitch with our visitors. The artist’s quilt-based works which make up the exhibition exemplify his insightful, expansive engagement with, among other subjects, African American history and culture, Buddhism, African ritual sculptures, and the contributions of American quiltmakers to the country’s visual culture.

 Codeswitch continues the museum’s relationship with Biggers and his practice, from work featured in our 2017 exhibition, Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art, to the acquisition in 2020 of his video installation,Infinite Tabernacle (Triad). Infinite Tabernacle (Triad) will make its public premier in our galleries parallel to the Codeswitchexhibition. 

“Chorus for Paul Mooney,” by Sanford Biggers, antique quilt, assorted textiles, acrylic and spray paint.  |  Provided photo

What issues does Biggers raise in his work that you believe the Speed audience will connect with?

 So many people, I think, have experienced quilts and their evocative power—memories of family quiltmakers or quilts being passed from generation to generation—that Biggers’s quilt-based works, which begin with antique quilts, possess an immediate familiarity. Biggers simultaneously encourages and confounds this sense of familiarity through his masterful interventions. These take us to many places and emotional experiences: works that reference the horrors of racial injustice, works that joyfully embrace hip-hop culture, works that evoke the contemplative traditions of Buddhism, and so forth. 

 Talk about how a show like this puts the Speed in a position to host other shows of this level?

 As an accredited art museum, the Speed has built a strong reputation nationally for hosting major exhibitions like Ebony G. Patterson…while the dew is still on the roses…, Andy Warhol: Revelation, Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art, Women Artists in the Age of Impressionism, and many others. Promise Witness Remembrance, the 2021 exhibition that shined a light on the killing of Breonna Taylor and the subsequent movement for Black lives in the community and around the world featured local artists as well as nationally recognized Black artists and artists of color. That exhibition, along with the Museum’s longstanding commitment to community engagement and uplifting the voices of artists, opened the door for the Speed to represent other major living contemporary artists, such as Sanford Biggers. 

 Will the artist visit? What other events are planned around his exhibit. 

 Yes! Sanford will be doing a public talk at 7 p.m. during our monthly After Hours on Friday, March 18. For details on that and other programming, please contact Tory Parker at [email protected].

Speed After Hours happens this Friday, March 18 with a keynote from Sanford Biggers at 7 p.m.. The event will also feature a cash bar and food from Wiltshire, a Lipstick Wars Poetry Slam, Music by Kiana and the Sun Kings. Get tickets here.

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About the Author

Sanford Biggers Gives Antique Quilts New Meaning In His ‘Codeswitch’ Speed Art Museum Exhibit

Erica Rucker is LEO Weekly’s Arts & Entertainment Editor. In addition to her work at LEO, she is a haphazard writer,  photographer, tarot card reader, and fair to middling purveyor of motherhood. Her earliest memories are of telling stories to her family and promising that the next would be shorter than the first. They never were. You can follow Erica on Twitter, but beware of honesty, overt blackness and occasional geeky outrage.

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