Letitia Fraser: This is My Fabric
Letitia Fraser is an emerging Black female Nova Scotian artist who uses collage, quilting and figurative painting in her portraits of family and community members. Her work is at the intersection between archives, biography, and memory, as well as addressing the politics of representation, affiliation and belonging. Fraser speaks to what it means to be a person from a particular place with a very distinct history and the legacy of that inheritance, while all the while working to document, preserve and make known a collective past from a distinct point of view.
Fraser cites the influences of contemporary artists such as Nijdeka Akunyili Crosby, Kadir Nelson, and Barkley Hendrix, amongst others, in her use of fabrics on her canvases, and in her approach to portraiture. A graduate from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, her work is not only a nod to these influences, but also explicitly draws inspiration from her own lineage; and specifically, from her maternal grandmother, Rosella Fraser, Sr. (1932-2010). From Mommay, as she was known to all who knew her, and through Mommay’s daughter and namesake Rosella, Letitia Fraser’s mother, generational traditions and values were passed down; woven tightly into a shared worldview on the importance of family, traditions, history, celebration, and belonging.
Fraser’s grandmother was a quilter, and part of a community of quilters. Quilt making is a craft that melds utilitarian needs with art, handiwork, and skill, as well as recognizing not only the domestic location of its fabrication, but also the time and labour intrinsic to its creation. Quilt making takes time; it is inherently a stop and start activity. They come together within the margins of other more pressing daily activities, are worked on in the down time, and often are made in the shared spaces of private conversations and ongoing domestic activities. Stories are told while they are fabricated: the quilts hold the traces of those stories, as well as the new ones relating to the labour, skill and ingenuity required to make something from salvaged pieces of fabric. The quilt’s segments are remnants of family life and its memories, traces imbued with a different purpose through layered, cumulative value. The function of a quilt – to keep you warm — is coupled with connection when it was made for you, by hands you know and love, who love you back.
Portraiture is quite literally representation: as such, issues related to race, gender and class are inextricable from the genre. Who is portrayed, by whom, and for what purpose are the questions that we ask ourselves whenever we encounter these works. Fraser is keenly aware of the weight of these questions, and of the importance of her project to capture, to celebrate and to write into a collective history the people that matter to her as part of a deeper, richer storytelling from North Preston, in Nova Scotia, and in Canada writ large. The care with which she creates her images and offers a glimpse into their faces is a bond which cannot be made lightly and the viewer in turn is entrusted to pay attention, to pay respect, and to appreciate this shared connection.