The centerpiece of the exhibition is the artist’s monumental installation, Birth of a Nation (2014), which represents the abstracted figure of a black woman nursing a white infant against the backdrop of the first official flag of the United States. Suspended above a mound of earth, the quilt is surrounded by Towns’ ongoing Story Quilts series (2016–), a cycle of seven works in luminous fabrics and glass beads that narrate the life of Nat Turner and his 1831 rebellion. A pair of quilted oval portraits of Nat and Cherry Turner adds a significant dimension to this narrative, considering the role of a marriage in the course of historic events. Towns’ quilting practice delves into the perspectives of women and people of color and draws on that knowledge to interrogate the institution of slavery in American history.
Trained as a painter with a BFA in studio art from the University of South Carolina, Towns (American, b. 1980) has also developed a rigorous, self-taught quilting practice. Towns draws visual inspiration from medieval altarpieces, Impressionist paintings, and Dutch wax print fabrics, in addition to African American story quilts. His work has been exhibited at Arlington Arts Center, Galerie Myrtis, Gallery CA, and Goucher College’s Rosenberg Gallery, among other venues. Towns won the inaugural travel prize of the Municipal Art Society of Baltimore City in 2016, traveling to Ghana and Senegal to visit historical sites that mark the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and was the recipient of a Ruby Artist Project Grant in 2015.