Laundry work provided economic opportunities for groups denied better opportunities in society. The Clothesline Muse is a multi-media theatrical tribute to black washerwomen. In this excerpt from a talkback session with the audience (which cites my story of a Chinese laundry in Southern Fried Rice), the artists emphasize that a larger purpose of their work is to demonstrate the way this work affected the lives of all laundry workers, black, Chinese, Irish, groups that occupied the lower rungs of the social ladder, and to bridge generational gaps so that today’s generation learns about the work of the earlier generations.
The Clothesline Muse is a creative project conceived by jazz singer Nnenna Freelon, choreographerKariamu Welsh and visual artist Maya Freelon Asante. each artist distinguished in her own right in her respective discipline. The recent premier of The Clothesline Muse was at The Painted Bride Art Center in Philadelphia. The artistic trio hopes to tour their production around the world.
“The clothesline is a deep and wide metaphor for the ties that bind us, for the work of our mothers and grandmothers and what they sacrificed for us to have a better future,” says Maya Freelon Asante. The clothesline is also a metaphor for games young girls historically would play after the washing had been done, taking down the clothesline for duty as a skip rope in the double dutch or hand-clap game. “It also leads us to the future. If you think about saving the Earth, if you think about natural ways to save energy and ways to be green, then we’re right back where we started with the clothesline as well. So there are multiple metaphors what will be used.”