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MAY, 2019

New Finished Artwork

Inspiration

Collage

Interconnection

Art for Peace and Justice

I’m very pleased that two of my collage pieces will be included in the SOS Art 2019 exhibition at the Art Academy of Cincinnati from May 31 through June 9. This exhibit is part of a ten-day event of art for peace and justice, now in its seventeenth year. Founder and organizer Saad Ghosn is an artist, writer, physician, University of Cincinnati professor emeritus, and dedicated social/political activist. He and his team have put together a great program of events. You’ll find the schedule and more information at the SOS Art 2019 website.

“More than 200 Cincinnati visual artists, literary artists, musicians, performers and school children will participate in this year’s SOS ART event at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. The event is a kaleidoscopic community view on the sociopolitical world. Works by local artists make powerful and diverse statements in support of justice and peace locally, nationally and worldwide.” (City Beat)

Two books featuring the works of local activist artists and writers are published in conjunction with the event. All events are free and open to the public.

Look How Far We Haven’t Come

With the current media focus on women’s issues and gender inequality, I found myself becoming more and more upset. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that these problems are being addressed, and that they finally seem to be taken seriously by a wide segment of society. What bothers me, I think, is that I’m of the generation that really got behind the women’s movement in a big way back in the ’70’s. Protests were common, marches were marched, and bras were burned. (Notice the clothing theme here; its importance will soon become apparent.) We tried to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, without success. But after all this time, I guess I assumed that more progress had been made. It was  disheartening for me to confront the reality of how far we haven’t come. “Time’s Up”, indeed.

Mary Walker’s Pants

Mary Walker’s Pants

mixed media collage on vintage book covers,  18 x 14 inches

ingredients: antique ephemera, image transfers, lace, sewing machine bobbins, stitching

So, what does all this have to do with Mary Walker’s pants? Dr. Mary Edwards Walker  was a Civil War surgeon and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, a prisoner of war, and an outspoken abolitionist and suffragist. Reading that she was arrested several times for wearing trousers in public, I couldn’t at first understand why such a seemingly trivial act would be illegal. Certainly, it was outside the social norm, but why was it illegal?

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A selection of fashionable 1868 walking dresses from Godey’s Women’s Books.

I constructed Mary’s suit from a vintage package that contained a sewing machine threader.

To answer that question, I asked myself: what did women’s clothing do at the time?  Well, it covered them entirely, for one thing, reducing the likelihood that men would be tempted by the sight of too much flesh. Even more importantly, women’s clothing severely restricted their movement. The many heavy layers of undergarments they wore could weigh as much as 20 pounds, and would certainly be prohibitive should a women be tempted to cheat on her husband. Corsets were often so tight that women struggled to breathe. It was all but impossible for them to ride a horse, and they very easily became overheated when doing anything in warm weather. No wonder women were seen as the “weaker sex.” Mary Walker maintained that such clothing was harmful to women’s health, and refused to wear it.

Some ads from Godey’s Ladies’ Book, including one for “glove-fitting” corsets.

Which begs the question, What rights of the female sex?

Dress Reform

I also wasn’t aware that dress reform was an issue that had been such an integral part of the women’s movement for many years. What people wear, or are forced to wear, has so much more meaning and consequence than I had ever considered. This wikipedia article on “Trousers as women’s clothing” was really an eye-opener; I encourage you to read it. It seems that one of the major reasons for not allowing women to wear men’s clothing was that women had access to higher paying jobs if they posed as men. Gender pay equity is another ugly can of worms we’re still dealing with today.

The Yellow Wallpaper

The Yellow Wallpaper

mixed media collage on antique leather book cover

ingredients: antique ephemera, decorative paper, artist pens, cabinet card photo, lace, found objects, stitching

The other piece I will be exhibiting is The Yellow Wallpaper, a mixed media collage based on the short story of the same name by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.  According to historian Hillary Marland, this semi-autobiographical story “…highlights the plight of many women during the 19th century. All women were seen by physicians as susceptible to ill health and mental breakdown by reason of their biological weakness and reproductive cycles. And those who were creative and ambitious were deemed even more at risk.” The protagonist is confined to an upstairs bedroom for a “rest cure” for what would now probably be diagnosed as post-partum depression.  She is forbidden to work (she’s a writer), and begins to obsess about the yellow wallpaper, behind which she sees women “creeping.”  Eventually she tears it off the walls, saying, “I’ve got out at last … and you can’t put me back…” We are left to wonder if she has liberated herself or truly lost her mind. 

Art For Peace and Justice – and a Change

For women, as well as many other segments of our society, peace and justice still seem a long way off. And I have to wonder, why is social and cultural change so slow, and so hard? What I’ve recently realized is that prejudice and discrimination are difficult to eradicate because they hide in places that are so easy to overlook. They are embedded in those small and subtle customs, beliefs, and norms that no one really thinks about. Things like clothing, and medical treatments, and hundreds of other seemingly insignificant details of our lives. Discrimination is rarely blatant; its invisibility is what makes it so insidious.

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