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Island Expressions: Jamila Hammad

Feb. 10, 2008 –Jamila Hammad emphasizes the "art" in art quilting. Her works are an extravaganza of color, sparkles and sensual material. She brings all those elements together into pieces that would make fine wall hangings in any home.
Often her theme is the sea, with sea creatures and coral reefs. Many of her titles reference Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea.
"It's all about Poseidon in my mind," Hammad said. "Under the sea is Poseidon's beautiful and colorful garden. It's the perfect inspiration."
In her pieces, one may see a large orange seahorse with a shining jeweled eye. Or a parrotfish in realistic colors and fabric patterned like scales. She has stitched translucent jellyfish of organza that appear to be floating on a sea of pale green and blue waves.
Hammad pieces together complete underwater scenes with starfish, whimsical sea turtles or brightly colored schools of fish in sea grasses. The works of art are anywhere from nine by 12 inches to 72 by 62 inches.
Over the years, Hammad said, she had fiddled with other art forms trying to find the right medium for her. "I saw an exhibit of art quilts in 2003 and loved it," Hammad said.
The quilts can take anywhere from two weeks to two months to complete. She has a quilt board on her design wall where she hangs the basic beginnings of the quilt. She will look at it for days or weeks and then, "it talks to me," she said.
"This is an art form using fabric and thread instead of paint and brushes," Hammad said.
The works of art are mostly done with hand-dyed or printed cotton fabrics.
She has used organdy and silk to create a soft fluid feel. Or she may use a nubby knit piece of material for coral. She sews on beads and jewels to create fingers of coral, outlines of sea creatures or the eye of a fish. Also incorporated into the piece could be strands of silver and gold threads or braided silken cords.
She uses a 20-year-old Singer sewing machine that only does straight or zig-zag stitches. But she has perfected a system where she can do any kind of stitch, moving the fabric under a quilter foot instead of the pressure foot. She has a small alcove set up as a studio in her apartment, on a hill overlooking Salt River.
Hammad used to be in marketing at Merrill Lynch and her husband, Bob Sifniades, was a computer programmer for Exxon in New Jersey. They had often sailed and vacationed in the Caribbean.
In 2004 they spent a week on St. Croix at a co-worker's condo and fell in love with the island. An opportunity came up for them to manage Blue Vista Villa in 2005, and they decided to leave the corporate world behind and move to St. Croix and embrace the artistic life.
As freelancers they could work any where. "We were meant to be here," she said. "My love for the sea became a focal point for my art,"
For the second year Hammad will have her quilts for sale at the Good Hope School annual fine art exhibit that opens Friday and runs through Monday. On Saturday, she had an opening for an exhibit at Cultural Creations in Frederiksted. In March, she will have quilts in the St. George Village Botanical Gardens annual art show.
To view Hammad's quilted wall hangings go to calypsoartquilts.com.

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