Machine quilted and hand stitched with organza overlays and beading
By Gillan Wang:
This quilt was made for Emalia Brown, a high school friend from Maui, where we both grew up, after she was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. The news of Emalia’s illness came as a terrible shock. I created the art quilt to raise money to help defray her escalating medical costs and to work through my own sadness and demonstrate my compassion. She died while the quilt was in process, and It is now being donated in her honor to benefit her preschool aged son, in the Kahalakea Guard Educational Fund. The format of the piece is based on a traditional Hawaiian quilt, but differs in that it tells the story of Emalia’s journey, and our shared connections to Hawaii.
Traditional Hawaiian quilts typically feature a solid geometric plant-based pattern, appliquéd onto a high-contrast solid fabric. The geometric pattern that I created is based on the silhouette of my friend from a high school year book photo. The reference is specific, yet her identity is intentionally ambiguous. (Emalia’s trademark is a flower behind her ear, which is discernible in the silhouette). I used sheer fabric for the silhouette/geometric shape, atop many colorful fabrics that collectively evoke a sense of water, marine life, flora and fauna – all of which we both love. The sheer fabric allows the imagery below to read through, thereby allowing for multiple readings, and suggesting an elusive state of existence. The words grace, love, peace and eternal are embroidered on and around the geometric form, in English and in Hawaiian.
While I was driven by sorrow to create this quilt, I aimed to express a more upbeat message of love, peace and acceptance.
The creation of this artwork helped me to come to terms with a very upsetting loss. Initially I was overwhelmed by my sadness, but eventually this project helped me to reflect on the positive attributes of my friend, which we will forever celebrate. It also allowed me to feel empowered by taking action to help my friend's family in a tangible way, as opposed to feeling helpless about an unfair situation.
My work is primarily mixed-media, with a recent focus on art quilts. Most of my work is inspired by life’s poignant experiences, such as newborn children, parenting and loss. I am especially interested in establishing a narrative in my work, which invariably informs the aesthetic of a piece. I enjoy creating and considering multiple interpretations, and I take pleasure in exploring concepts and ideas using a variety of materials in unexpected ways. Whimsy, bold color schemes, text and found materials often characterize my work.
I grew up on Maui, Hawaii, which heightened my aesthetic sensibilities and appreciation of color and the natural environment. I have a deep love of diverse materials and for working with my hands. I have a BA from Bard College and a Master’s degree in Architecture from Syracuse University, which expanded my capacity to think spatially, and introduced me to many concepts that I now explore in my artwork, such as layering and transparency.