NewsBlack History Month 2024

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Local textile artist sews Afro-American history into designs to teach, empower and engage

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Posted at 5:43 PM, Feb 23, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo — Local textile artist Karen E. Griffin, better known as KE, is continuing the legacy of her ancestors one seam and one story at a time.

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All of her quilts and designs tell the untold stories of those who came before. Much of her inspiration comes from West African symbols, her ancestors, and the Afro-American experience.

“It’s our ancestors' unfinished stories in America is what it is. These are stories that have been going on for years. These will never stop,” Griffin said. “Sometimes people don’t always want to hear what you’re saying, but they can relate to what they’re seeing and what you’ve created.”

She feels it is her responsibility to get curious, learn her roots and then teach. Especially during a time when she feels her history is being erased.

“Things are being erased "Griffin said. "Why are we erasing those things? We’re erasing those things because we don’t want people to know. It’s about educating. It’s the ’Sankofa.’ Reaching back to pull forward.”

For this year's Black History Month, she is using red, black and green to honor the Afro-American flag. The flag’s 100th anniversary was overlooked in 2020 because of the pandemic.

A total of 13 pieces, each has a pearl on the bottom left corner for her mom and a Purple Heart for her father who served in World War II.

She shared this collection Friday at the Kansas City Veteran's Administration Medical Center to honor her father and other veterans, including John Riley.

“I love the creativity of any artist, but then when you start focusing on our history, it’s a whole different layer,"Riley said. "Because we experience life, you know, a little bit differently than everybody else. It’s not all pain — a lot of it is celebration, a lot of it is reflection and a lot of it is resistance."

Riley says art has the power to soothe, but also to wake people up and challenge their perceptions.

Griffin hopes her being at the local Veteran's Administration Medical Center is a conversation starter.

“Someone is creating art because of what they have done and the fight that they have fought, the struggle they went through,” said Griffin.