By Amber Dodge and Hope McMath
The (Re)Set the Table exhibition asks, and answers, questions about who is at the proverbial table and who is excluded, overlooked, or silenced. In doing so, it has become our a tradition at Yellow House (can we say ‘tradition’ after only 18 monhts?) to include literal tables as places of connection, conversation, and shared power. This was the case in last year’s exhibition of the same title where Mary Ratcliff’s sculpture table provided space for dialogue and reflection. Tables sat beneath the powerful portraits of Erin Kendrick in the exhibition ‘her own things’ and a table is a place for deep exchange during our Breaking Bread series.
The current table is not one of our creation, but one that is set by a group of women creators who invite us to learn about their cultural heritage, as well as their struggles and hopes. They are all members of One Heart Jax is a group that meets regularly to share their love for creativity, crafting, and community. They have been meeting informally for two years and have recently become a formal program of the duPont Family YMCA. Most of the women in the group journeyed to Jacksonville from various countries around the world, arriving as refugees and immigrants from places such as Myanmar, Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela, Syria, Lebanon, Sudan, Japan, Morocco, and more.
The table they have set inside the Porch Gallery of Yellow House is filled with items from their own homes…a teapot from Iran, spices from India, a basket from Burma, a flag from Lebanon, fabrics from Iran and Sudan, a plate from Iraq, and bread from Cuba. In the center of the table and hanging throughout the space are fabric hearts, adorned with embroidery, beads, and paint, created by the women, whose photographic portraits welcome us into the space.
Working alongside American-born volunteers and friends, the diverse women of One Heart Jax use their talents to create art using fiber arts, beads, fabric and other recycled and repurposed materials. The process of making is just as important as the finished products. Meeting regularly fosters a sense of belonging and common purpose. The women teach and learn new techniques from one another, practice English, share stories about their families and countries of origin, exchange words of encouragement or advice, celebrate accomplishments, and even laugh and cry together. There is no agenda, no organizational hierarchy, no ulterior motives, and no false pretenses. They unite and bond around a shared love for the arts and cross-cultural exchange and are empowered and uplifted by the communal experience.
For the women of One Heart Jax, the existence of this group makes our city a more welcoming and inclusive place for refugees and immigrants who now call Jacksonville their new home. Each woman has something to contribute, and each woman feels valued and appreciated for her contribution. Our community is made stronger and more beautiful by the diversity that these newcomers bring to the area.
Our hope is that you will visit Yellow House and take some time to view their photos and artistic creations, read their stories, learn about their cultural keepsakes, and ponder their unique experiences. As you do, please dare to imagine our community coming together, welcoming all, and collectively beating with One Heart of love and mutual respect.