Teaching Artist NedRa Bonds makes quilts to talk about social justice and to teach and preserve history. At this year’s Champions for Health Youth Summit, she’ll engage 200 kids, their teachers and elected officials in a collaborative quilt that celebrates the power of their voices as they speak out for healthy communities.
NedRa Bonds was six years old when she started quilting. She was only allowed to watch television while she was doing something constructive, so that’s what she did.
“I learned to make 10 stitches to the first joint in my finger, and if I didn’t do 10 then I had to take them out and do them over again,” she says. She never thought it would turn into her life’s work, that she would go on to make more than 100 quilts.
NedRa makes quilts to talk about social justice and to teach and preserve history.
She is best-known for her Quindaro Quilt, which tells the history of her Quindaro neighborhood and its role as part of the National Underground Railroad System of Historic Trails. She made the quilt to protest a landfill that was being planned in the area.
“People need to tell their stories for healing as well as for information and to document history. Quilting is a way to do that in a noncontroversial way. There’s something about the stories being on fabric that makes them more inviting to people,” NedRa says.
She has taught workshops locally to schoolchildren in Kansas City and internationally to women in Nairobi, Kenya, Arusha, Tanzania, and Haiti. In 2008, she participated in an American Studies Association conference in Istanbul, Turkey. Bonds was recently invited to participate in an exchange in Cuba, with other textile artists.
During the 2013-14 school year, NedRa introduced students at Stony Point South and Quindaro elementary schools to dozens of historic figures and celebrities from Wyandotte County. Students created portraits of them and NedRa made eight quilts in what was dubbed the Quilts of Heroes project.
NedRa’s quilts have been displayed in traveling exhibits and locally at the Jazz Museum, Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center, University of Missouri-Kansas City and Park University. She also was commissioned to create a quilt for the Kansas City Chiefs Art Program. It’s called “Common Threads” and shows three women of different nationalities on the Quindaro Bluffs quilting the northern star.
NedRa describes her intention in making art as creating “small changes in perception” that enact social change. She uses the changes she makes on fabric to illustrate social issues and help viewers think about them in new and important ways. Bonds compares small changes in her work to the small change of capitalizing the “R” in NedRa: “I spell my name with a capital “R” for ART… So, just as changing the “R” in my name creates a whole new persona, small changes in perception, can change society.”
Bonds received her Bachelor of Arts at the University of Kansas in American Studies and her Master of Science at Kansas State University in Urban Education.
Cover photo: Leah Evans Photography for Wak’ó Mujeres Phụ nữ Women Mural: Stories of Kansan Women of Color.