Client: City of Houston, Mayors Office of Cultural Affairs
Location: Houston, TX, United States
Completion date: 2023
Artwork budget: $260,000
The Red Thread Collective
The Red Thread Collective
The Red Thread Collective
Merge Studios, LLC
Zainob Amao and Mathew Usoro
“Folding Stories” is a suspended artwork created for the Alief Neighborhood Center as a multicultural tapestry woven from stories of female pioneers, leaders, and immigrant families in Houston’s Alief neighborhood. Taking inspiration from the community’s namesake, female postmaster Alief Magee, artists Sneha Bhavsar, Rakhee Jain, and Ami Mehta designed the floating forms to resemble folded letters written by residents from the Alief community.
The artwork’s fabric facets are patterned with excerpts of written letters collected from Alief students, long-time residents, library patrons, civil servants, and neighborhood leaders, and were hand-embroidered by refugee and immigrant women. The suspended forms also feature original, hand-painted motifs, traditional textiles and patterns from cultures from around the world and in Alief’s international community.
In the artists’ words:
“The community of Alief is a multicultural tapestry; woven from countless intriguing stories of strong female pioneers, of leaders embracing change, and of immigrant families full of aspiration and perseverance. “Folding Stories,” strives to honor these struggles and successes by creating three multifaceted sculptures with hand-painted, culturally inspired textiles.”
“Folding Stories” welcomes visitors to the new facility and celebrates the history and strength of diversity in Alief – Houston’s most international community – and encourages the residents of Alief to gather, learn, and influence each other.
The new $60-million+ mixed-used neighborhood center merges three City of Houston facilities under one roof, creating a civic center at the heart of a redeveloped 38-acre active urban sports park. A new paradigm for providing City services to underserved communities, decades in the making, the 70,000 sf 3-story LEED-certified, award-winning building is the first of its kind nation-wide, designed to maximize shared resources between the Houston's Health, Parks and Recreation, and Public Library departments with special focus on community engagement, neighborhood identity, and civic well-being.
This facility was completed via Houston’s Complete Communities Initiative — a collaborative and transformative effort whose mission is to build one complete city from recovery to resilience by championing the voices of residents that have been ignored for far too long.
As South Asian female artists and long-time Houstonians, the artists believe in the intrinsic value diverse peoples and perspectives contribute to community enrichment.
In 2020, the Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs (MOCA) announced its search for artists to develop three permanent, site-specific civic art commissions for then-forthcoming Alief Neighborhood Center.
Through Houston Arts Alliance, MOCA released the opportunity to artists residing in the Greater Houston Area and oversaw a selection process which prioritized community representation, deep community engagement, and storytelling.
Throughout 2022, with support form MOCA and the Houston Public Library and Houston Health departments, The Red Thread Collective hosted workshops and artist-presentations in the Alief community and collected hand-written letters from Alief students and civically engaged residents about their future hopes for Alief. Excerpts from these letters were then superimposed on the fabric facets, ensuring the sculptural elements resonate with words written by the people of Alief.
The collaborative spirit with which “Folding Stories” was made encourages the residents of Alief to gather, learn, and influence one another, further ensuring that the artwork celebrates and encourages what is unique about Alief – its intercultural spirit.
MOCA’s announcement of artists awarded contracts to develop art commissions for the Alief Neighborhood Center was the first to take place after the public release its first-ever Equity Review of Houston’s Civic Art Collection in 2020. The results of this collection survey showed devastating inequities in the history of Houston’s art-commissioning practices and for the lifetime of its Civic Art Program until 2020. Women of color especially proved to be the most underrepresented group in Houston’s collection per the city’s population demographics and at the time, had together created less than 2.5% of the artworks in Houston’s Civic Art Collection. Out of 677 objects in the Civic Art Collection in 2020, only 17 artworks were the work of BIPOC women. Through new leadership for its Civic Art Program, MOCA has since been able to establish a community-centric vision for commissioning artworks for Houston’s neighborhoods and has underscored new standards for equity and artist-support within the artist-selection processes for art commissions. The completion of The Red Thread Collective’s “Folding Stories” artwork marks the first artwork to be created by South Asian female artists for Houston’s now 809-object Civic Art Collection.