Date of Award
Open Access Dissertation
Cultural Studies, PhD
School of Arts and Humanities
Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member
Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member
David K. Seitz
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.
© 2023 Kiandra S Jimenez
African American quiltmakers, Black domestic workers, Black feminism, Cultural geography, Sharecropping, Slave narratives
African American Studies | Ethnic Studies | Fiber, Textile, and Weaving Arts
What does being human mean for women who were artists denied the ability to live life on their own standards? What did it mean to live a creative life when your body was captured and held within a system that surveilled and penalized you for things like writing, reading, or the idea of creating was impossible? In Alice Walker’s “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens,” she asks us to consider what it meant to be a Black woman artist when you are considered “the mule of the world,” and are stuck toiling away—as a launderer, a maid, a cook, a nanny—and your soul cried out with creativity? Particularly moved by Walker’s inquiry, this research turns to Lorde’s concept of the erotic to think through these women’s humanity and understand Black women’s creativity by reading the labor they did in excess of the labor they were forced to do. I am particularly animated by the ways they made and re-made their respective worlds through labor spinning fiber, weaving, and creating quilts: What inspired them and drove them to continue to labor after a full day of laboring; was it an act of love, of pleasure, of necessity, or all three? To arrive at a response, I engage with former enslaved people’s narratives within the WPA archives, as well as my own family’s archival records to discern what these women did, what they said they did, and what other people said they did. Were they creating art, or just working out of necessity? Within the WPA archives, I focused on narratives concerning spinning, weaving, dyeing, and sewing/making clothes, and within modern narratives I turn to quilters within agrarian cultures utilizing traditions handed down from one generation to another. While encountering the wounding silence of early archives, I instinctively turned to my own creative labor—I grow cotton, spin, weave, quilt, and write poems, realizing that my way forward—the way to begin to mend the archives is by filling in the silences with my own creative practice. Leaning on my grandmother’s stories and my own creative work, I stitch into the trouble and silences, leading me to a new way of thinking about Black women’s creative labor. I found evidence of the erotic studying the creative pursuits of Black women and how they ordered their day around their lives as sharecroppers/domestics—the way they labored yet managed to induce self and family care within the rhythms of their day. I looked at the spinning, weaving, dyeing and clothmaking practices and the way they dressed their bodies—using what was available, naturally, to create clothes that made them feel joy, beautiful even. They took the scraps of those clothes and reimagined them into quilts that not only kept them warm but adorned the home in art that subverted the European tradition of quilting. When we look at the daily life practices of these women we see a refusal to live a life without the capacity to feel in the doing. We see an aliveness rooted in an alternative way of knowing and being in the world inspired by what these women felt and their capacity to ensure their beloveds felt loved and rooted in something besides oppression. My research illustrates—literally—that we know in other ways and it shows that not only what we study and call knowledge must evolve, but that the way we produce knowledge must change. We don’t have to look at the 1870s wall and the silence of the archives as a tomb, but as a possibility to imagine otherwise, particularly by changing what we read as knowledge and how we read. Black Feminist Poiesis teaches us that being human is rooted in our capacity to feel, and by studying the excess labor Black domestic women did in service of their beloveds—we find a wellspring of texts, waiting to be read, waiting to teach us how to live otherwise. What follows is research methodically situated between Sadiya Hartman’s critical fabulation and Rosamond S. King’s biomythography in “Radical Interdisciplinarity.” Like King, I desire to scream against the silence through radical interdisciplinary work I name interdisciplinary poiesis, utilizing poetry, traditional scholarship, memoir, and speculative fiction based on my own art practices. My desire is for this work to arrive as interrupter and disrupter, challenging the constitution of the archive, and arguing for a living archive of Black Feminist Poiesis of the Erotic that is as inclusive as it is revisionary, while being open and on-going.
Jimenez, Kiandra S.. (2023). Black Feminist Poiesis: Locating “The Uses of the Erotic” Within Black Domesticity. CGU Theses & Dissertations, 535. https://scholarship.claremont.edu/cgu_etd/535.
Available for download on Thursday, July 10, 2025