She Means Business, International Fiber Artis April Anue Shipp

BY: Robin M Wilson

If you ask Detroit native April Anue Shipp, 62, about how her art practice has shaped her journey, she will tell you that it has influenced her life’s trajectory.

The day that we sat down for her interview, the planets were aligned and the sun was eclipsed during our dine at an Italian bistro. “You want to go deeper to grow?” she asked. Beyond the laughter that echoed from our table before our meals arrived, April was transparent about challenges that she has overcome to arrive in this season of her life.

“I’m a giver of gifts. I’ve always been a giver,” April said. At age eight, April recalls sewing a clutch purse for her favorite teacher. She retraced the memory of walking through an empty elementary school hallway to give her teacher the handmade purse. What was a proud moment for her soon turned into a traumatic experience. On her way back to class, April recalls being pulled into an empty room by a man, who raped her and sped off once he heard school staff nearby. “This was the 60’s. I was so young. I didn’t really understand what happened to me.”

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She was taken to the hospital and later given an opportunity to identify her attacker. However, April says that she was scared and she could not fully remember how the man looked. “I became [emotionally] detached,” April said. “I blocked out the memories. I think this was my way of coping because I did not fully remember the experience until years later.”

At the point where the suppressed painful memories of her abuse surfaced, April says she was in a volatile marriage. April, who learned how to sew from her seamstress mother, possessed an abundance of creativity since childhood. Still, she says that it was during her turbulent marriage that art became a refuge. With a natural curiosity, she tuned in to PBS television to learn how to create quilts. She also pressed into her childhood inclination to play in dirt by learning how to work with clay to create sculptures. In addition to her faith in Christ, April says her artwork gave her the courage to walk away from her marriage and to pursue the life she desired for herself and for her family. “Quilting became my saving grace.”

More than 20 years later, April has masterfully fashioned quilts to honor leaders like Civil Rights Movement icon Rosa Parks and former President Barack Hussein Obama. She has also created a quilt titled “Strange Fruit” to remember the Black men, women, and children who lost their lives to lynchings in the American South, a monumental work of art that took her three years to complete, and has been displayed at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American Museum among other prominent spaces throughout the United States. “I want to create artwork that makes people think about what’s going on in the world,” April said. “A lot of people are sleepwalking—it’s time to wake up.”

Her work is currently on display at the Southfield City Hall as part of the Conversations in Fiber exhibit and at the Scarab Club for the Glida Snowden Memorial exhibition in Detroit. Now, she is preparing for the debut of her newest work which is a part of the Afrofuturism and Quilts exhibit at Michigan State University’s Union Gallery in Lansing, Michigan. In addition to exploring aspects of quiltmakers’ identity and experiences, the exhibit delves into the quilters’ beliefs, hopes, and imaginings of a liberated Afrofuture.

If you believe that being an artist and educator is a superpower, April’s strength is in making those who are rendered invisible by society visible through her artwork. “I want people to be deeply moved when they see my work,” April said. “If they are thinking, asking questions, or crying, then I know that I have done my job.”

To learn more about April and her work, visit www. aprilanue.com. x

Robin Michelle Wilson is a published children’s author, greeting card designer, keynote speaker, business leader, and an educator. Robin is the owner of Robin Wilson Educational Consulting LLC and Vesey Lane Goods LLC. She actively serves on the Board of Directors for ARISE Detroit.

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