Thursday, October 31, 2019

Swan Bones Theater Presents...

Forest Sleep - oil on panel - 2010, Kelly Louise Judd.
(Click to enlarge.)

Well, it's the witching season again and, in an effort to stay true to the spirit(s) of our various Days of the Dead, I thought I might feature a new artist whose work is unique, pleasantly spooky, darkly ethereal and the stuff of Old World dreams: the illustrations of Kansas City, Missouri artist, Kelly Louise Judd. (Inset rightLight of the Owls, 2012.)

"Swan Bones Theater" is the name she uses to describe the "fragile shadowland" from which her images emerge as well as the illustrations themselves. Which is perfect really - especially for today - because, if you've recall from the Swan People posts, the swan is the symbol of the psychopomp in many traditions. To repost a quote (found here):

"In the British Isles, Samhain is the time when we see the migratory swans returning for their winter break. Their arrival at their winter waters is far from shy. In full voice, the awesome, evocative sound of hundreds of powerful wings beating signals their presence. They have been guided by the stars of Cygnus, the swan constellation, the Northern Cross, that guards the gateway rift in the Milky Way. They represent the winged soul returning.

The swan is the psychopomp. She flies with the souls of the dead from the burial grounds, the charnel grounds, and the necropolis. She takes them, under the guidance of the Cailleach, to the realms of the spirits."

- Caroline Wise from The Swan, the Goddess, and Other Samhain Musings.

Inset left above is Three Swans (2015). All images in this post - including the one below - can be found on Judd's website.

The Mockingbird and the Hare - oil on panel - 2010, Kelly Louise Judd.

Blessed Be and have a (transdimensionally) magical day!


"All our times have come
Here but now they're gone
Seasons don't fear the reaper 
Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain; we can be like they are 
Come on baby, don't fear the reaper
Baby take my hand, don't fear the reaper
We'll be able to fly, don't fear the reaper
Baby I'm your man"

- First stanza of the love song, (Don't Fear) the Reaper, written by Donald Roeser
in 1976 and performed by the band, Blue Oyster Cult. (Lyrics) (Video)

Monday, September 2, 2019

Feminism; Empowerment & the Arts (Part V): The Second Wave Rolls Along

A portrait of American artist Faith Ringgold (born October 8, 1930) found on her website.
(All images in this post can be clicked for larger views.)

"... the term 'sexism' was most likely coined on November 18, 1965, by Pauline M. Leet during a 'Student-Faculty Forum' at Franklin and Marshall College. Specifically, the word sexism appears in Leet's forum contribution 'Women and the Undergraduate,' and she defines it by comparing it to racism, stating in part: 'When you argue ... that since fewer women write good poetry this justifies their total exclusion, you are taking a position analogous to that of the racist - I might call you in this case a 'sexist'... Both the racist and the sexist are acting as if all that has happened had never happened, and both of them are making decisions and coming to conclusions about someone's value by referring to factors which are in both cases irrelevant.'"

-Via Wiki's entry for sexism. Inset right above is Know nothing, Believe anything, Forget everything by American feminist artist Barbara Kruger (born January 26, 1945).

"Ringgold showed White her paintings—still lifes and landscapes in what she called 'French' colors, which were very much in line with the gallery’s focus. The dealer studied the work, the artist told me, then said to her, 'You (pause) can’t (pause) do that.'

... Driving back to Harlem, she and Birdie talked about what had happened. 'I said to him,' Ringgold continued, 'You know something? I think what she’s saying is - it’s the 1960s, all hell is breaking loose all over, and you’re painting flowers and leaves. You can’t do that. Your job is to tell your story. Your story has to come out of your life, your environment, who you are, where you come from.'”

- From an ArtNews interview with American artist, Faith Ringgold, found with her 1969 painting (inset left) Black Light #10: Flag for the Moon Die Nigger, its title possibly a reference to the political biography released that year by Black activist, H. Rap Brown.

"Over the course of her sixty-year career, Faith Ringgold’s activism has moved strategically between reform and revolution. She helped form one of the first collectives for women of color artists in Brooklyn, led protests to push for the inclusion of artists of color at the Whitney and the Brooklyn Museum, advocated for free speech as part of the Judson 3, and worked with women who were incarcerated on Rikers to make a mural for the prison...

Ringgold completed this self-portrait at the beginning of her career, concurrent with the rise of the Black Power and other radical political movements of the 1960s... the artist portrays herself with a determined gaze and folded arms, in a gesture simultaneously gentle and guarded. In reflecting on this painting and the political and artistic awakening she experienced during this time, Ringgold has said, “I was trying to find my voice, talking to myself through my art.”

- Excerpt from another article regarding Faith Ringgold which, along with her self-portrait, was sourced from this Brooklyn Museum page. The "Riker's Island" prison mural mentioned in the article can be found here, although I have since found information that the actual prison at the time (1971) was the New York Women's House of Detention, where black revolutionary Angela Davis was being held. It eventually moved to Riker's Island where it became a prison for men.

"Yes, I was in Europe in 1955. I went for a summer vacation for two months. I went to London and France and then to Paris and then to southern France. And then to Italy...You know, Negroes didn't at that time travel much. And I know one of the reasons, you just couldn't get accommodations and couldn't be comfortable, and I felt that I would find that it was the same thing there. That I would be a Negro, you know, in a white world. And that was very frightening. Plus I couldn't live up to any of the brilliance that I was sure I would encounter. But after being in England for awhile I began to come out a little bit, and I found that in Europe you are not a Negro. You're a person. And that was, oh, that was just a wonderful, wonderful experience. I didn't want to come home. I just didn't want to come home... In South Carolina I did a little of traveling... I remember once I got on the bus with some other teachers who were roommates. And I went and automatically sat in the first seat that was empty. And they came along, these Negro teachers, and gave a great whoopla, you know. "You mustn't sit there" and all that. I didn't know what had happened. I turned around and looked at the man next to me and he looked at me... 'You can't sit there.' he said, 'First of all it's the front of the bus, second of all you're sitting next to a white man.'"

- American artist Vivian Browne from a transcript of a 1968 interview found here. The photograph inset left featuring Browne and some of her work was sourced here. It was Vivian Browne who, in 1971, along with Faith Ringgold, formed the Where We At group of African-American women artists.

"...those of us who stand outside the circle of this society's definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference – those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older – know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master's house as their only source of support."

- Attributed to Black feminist/womanist, activist, lesbian and poet, Audre Lorde (1934-1992), inset right. A West Indian American, Lorde championed the "outsider," a role she deeply identified with. As a black feminist she felt excluded from the prevailing feminist school, which she felt was academic, heterosexual and primarily white. She was an early Intersectional feminist, insisting that women acknowledge "differences between other women not as something to be tolerated, but something that is necessary to generate power and to actively 'be' in the world. This will create a community that embraces differences, which will ultimately lead to liberation. Divide and conquer, in our world, must become define and empower."

"Arkansas State Senator Paul Van Dalsem got a roaring laugh in 1963 at the then all-male Optimist Club when he railed at women lobbying to improve educational opportunities for African Americans. He said his home county’s solution would be to get an uppity woman an extra milk cow. 'And if that’s not enough, we get her pregnant and keep her barefoot.'”

- Via "Trading in “Barefoot and Pregnant” for Economic and Reproductive Justice." Apparently, Van Dalsem was paraphrasing a statement made earlier in the century by Arthur E. Hertzler, a Kansas M.D.: "The only way to keep a woman happy is to keep her barefoot and pregnant."  Inset left is a linoleum block print by American artist Margaret Taylor-Burroughs (1915-2010) - The Faces of My People. In Chicago during1961, she and her husband co-founded the Ebony Museum of Negro History and Art in what amounted to the living room of their house. It relocated in 1973, becoming the oldest museum of African-American culture in the United States:  the DuSable Museum of African American History.

"There are few things which present greater obstacles to the improvement and elevation of woman to her appropriate sphere of usefulness and duty, than the laws which have been enacted to destroy her independence, and crush her individuality; laws which, although they are framed for her government, she has had no voice in establishing, and which rob her of some of her essential rights. Woman has no political existence. With the single exception of presenting a petition to the legislative body, she is a cipher in the nation…"

"Woman has been placed by John Quincy Adams, side by side with the slave… I thank him for ranking us with the oppressed; for I shall not find it difficult to show, that in all ages and countries, not even excepting enlightened republican America, woman has more or less been made a means to promote the welfare of man, without due regard to her own happiness, and the glory of God as the end of her creation…"

- Two quotes from Quaker abolitionist and early feminist (inset right, above), Sarah Moore Grimké (1792 - 1873), from her "Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women" found in this Women's History blog article. Inset left is an abolitionist coin or token which reads: "Am I Not a Woman and a Sister?", a rallying cry paraphrased by Sojourner Truth (inset right) in her famous "Ain't I a Woman?" speech and further utilized by white abolitionist women who turned to feminism when they realized that, for the women of their time, abject servitude was merely several skin tones away. Today, modern slave traders are color-blind; all races of women and children (and some men) - most especially the poor - are victimized. See Human Trafficking. Also here and here.

“How long shall the fair daughters of Africa be compelled to bury their minds
and talents beneath a load of iron pots and kettles?”

- A quote from a speech by free-born African-American abolitionist and lecturer,
Maria W. Stewart (1803-1879) shown above. Also, see here.

"Let the women stay at home and hold their peace."

-Greek playwright Aeschylus, 467 B.C.

"A Woman is to be from her House three times:
when she is Christened, Married and Buried."

- British physician and preacher Thomas Fuller, 1732.

"A woman's place is in the house - the House of Representatives."

- 1970, Bella Abzug.
(Note: Abzug shot too low. Nowadays we'd say "the White House, Oval Office.")


The Radicals and Revolutionaries
Racism, Sexism & Aunt Jemima's Revenge

Well, it took 6 months and number of Interludes (following this post), before I could crank out a follow-up. The sad fact is, artists are so subversive they even rebel against their own agendas! Anyway, my apologies... but, this post was quite a project - substantially revised several times when volumes of new material was found - and, as we have a lot of ground to cover, well, we may as well dig in now.

An untitled work by Birgit Jürgenssen, 1978.
First off, a kind of a re-cap. What was (hopefully) apparent in my previous post of the series - and will become increasingly apparent here - is that art created by women from the second wave period was tremendously broad in both diversity and scope. Moreover, many of the artists involved are still alive today and are continuing to produce art which is relevant. Regarding the artists who have passed - and some only in the past decade - their artistic contributions not only continue to maintain a "shelf-life" but, in some cases are so peculiarly contemporary, they could seamlessly be exhibited alongside artwork emerging today.

Case in point, Austrian artist Birgit Jürgenssen, who was born in 1949 and died at the age of 54. Her work is featured above inset right - which seems to depict a female primate in captivity and below... examples which, as described here"powerfully subverted the clichés of gender representation, social stereotyping, fetishism and forced domestication of women. Only recently has her work been rediscovered and acknowledged for its significance."

XXO - B/W photographs coloured with pastels, paint, and pencil - 1979, Birgit Jürgenssen.

Apart from her early death, It's hard to understand why and how an artist like Jürgenssen managed to fall through the cracks so rapidly while other feminist artists didn't. But, it may have been a result of feminism in Austria at the time (see here), or it may have had to do with her understated style - XXO, above, was an exception - or eclectic oeuvre. On the other hand, her Housewives' Kitchen Apron (Inset left) in which the "housewife" seems to be no more than an insignificant extension of her stove, was a bold, subversive statement because, in the 1950s and 60s - the early days of Big Consumerism - and the 70s, manufacturers needed you to believe just that: a woman's value was assessed by her proficiency as a housekeeper and her knowledge of the latest kitchen appliance, dish detergent, and repertoire of recipes involving Jello.
(And, according to television script-writers and advertisers, she got extra points if she wore a strand of pearls and lipstick while scrubbing the bathroom floor!)

"Realization" by British feminist photographer, Jo Spence (1935-1992).
Spence has donned a Halloween mask for her parody of a stereotypical cleaning
product ad from the 60s. Note the "Capitalism Works!" poster behind her.

There were even magazines devoted to women designed to drive this domestic indoctrination home. "Good Housekeeping" (inset right) for example, arrived on newsstands in the late 1800s, one member of a group of American "woman's" magazines: the Seven Sisters. It initially targeted wealthy, white, married women for whom "housekeeping" amounted to no more than managing the servants.

After the Great Depression, however, and, more importantly, post-WWII, working women were obliged to return to their homes (see previous post in this series) and middle-class housewives (and mothers) now comprised a more burgeoning demographic. Of note: while there are both UK and South American versions of Good Housekeeping, in the States its succession of editors were all male until 1995! Lastly, all but two of the "Seven Sisters" is still in existence to today... presumably modified for modern consumption.

In any event, there was more than one force at work in the domestication of women and, in spite of those feisty New Women from the earlier part of the 20th century, and the success stories of mid-century artists like Georgia O'Keefe, Louise Bourgeois, and Frida Kahlo, and even after Judy Chicago brought feminist art to the fore, worldwide enthusiasm for women visual artists - most especially blatantly feminist artists - was lukewarm. As it was, the skills of women artists were still considered inferior, and the historical records - in which women's artistic achievements continued to be dismissed - reflected this.

A sampling of Supersisters trading cards found here.
Even many of the feminists themselves seemed to discount art as a meaningful profession. When, in 1979, members of NOW created a set of 72 trading cards - Supersisters - to commemorate the achievements of famous women throughout contemporary history, although they included a number of celebrities from politics, sports and the entertainment field, plus a scattering of poets, writers, musicians, etc., not one of the 72 featured a visual artist.

6 (out of 11) feminist icons composing the Sister Chapel. Left to right is artist Frida Kahlo, poet Marianne Moore, activist Betty Friedan, Womanhero, the goddess Durga, and Saint Jeanne d'Arc as a pious country maiden.

Which is not to say the feminist artists themselves kept a low profile, but, inadvertently, theirs was a separate camp... and, necessarily, a self-supporting one. When, in 1974, abstract painter, Ilise Greenstein, conceived of a feminist spin on the Sistine Chapel - a monument to female empowerment featuring an image of God in feminine form - she aligned herself with the Woman's Interart Center in New York; a group formed by artist Jacqueline Skiles and one which, according to this announcement, folded only recently.

Several years later the Sister Chapel was born, primarily a henge-like circle of large paintings depicting notable women by a number of feminist artists. The subject matter was an odd collection of female "heroes" (predominately Caucasian, with the exception of Frida Kahlo and the Hindu warrior goddess, Durga, inset left). But, at least the artists did include 2 visual artists in the mix - Kahlo and Artemisia Gentilieschi.

My Nurse and I, 1937, Frida Kahlo.
As it happened, the Sister Chapel, while initially popular, was dismantled in the early 1980s and fell into obscurity until 2016 when it was discovered and reassembled by an art history professor, Andrew Hottie. It is now on permanent exhibit at Rowan University Art Gallery in Glassboro, New Jersey.

But, the overall bottom line is that the world was not yet sold on the idea of woman artists, any more than it was prepared for truly free women. Moreover, society as a whole was unwilling to relinquish its hold on all its designated home-makers, baby breeders, caregivers, domestic slaves, and sex-toys. And, (surprise, surprise) it is still unwilling.

Woman Vacuuming Pop Art, 1972, Pop artist Martha Rosler (b. 1943).
(One way of getting your "work" into an art gallery in the 70s.)

For women of color, however, there was a double jeopardy: she was marginalized for both her gender and the color of her skin. She was doubly a "minority", because most legislature - and social scientists - categorized all women as a subordinate group; "women and minorities" shared the same lack of status despite the fact that, regardless of color, women comprised half of the global population. Moreover, if poverty and/or class was part of the equation, a woman might be burdened by triple oppression.

In any event, the African-American women knew intimately that there were two foes to overthrow: racism and sexism. And, for a blatant example of both, clothed in Christmas coziness, we have a second Good Housekeeping cover (inset left) which featured a stereotypical cartoon mammy-figure carrying in a tray of food captioned: "Black cook bringing steaming Christmas pudding into the dining room..." 

I'm only surprised she isn't wheeling in a large carton of pancake mix... (also referred to as Slave in a Box). In spite of the fact that this cover was created in 1902 - and the so-called Reconstruction Amendments were allegedly put into effect over 30 years hence - the jolly "black cook," while theoretically a free woman, was still presented as primarily a kitchen fixture and fundamentally a servant. Apparently, someone forgot to free Aunt Jemima...

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

No, this isn't only "racism."

A blatantly racist and sexist billboard in North Carolina which reads:
"The 4 Horseman Cometh are Idiots - Signed, the Deplorables (sic)

The Chosen One.
"In a tweet on Wednesday evening, Tlaib asked how the billboard could not be considered an aggressive inducement.

'How the hell is this not inciting violence?' she wrote.

Pressley tweeted: '#Racist rhetoric from the occupant of the @WhiteHouse has made hate our new normal. We are still vulnerable.'

But appeals for civility appear to be falling on deaf ears. Wacholz amped up his attack when the store posted a statement on Facebook that said it planned to produce clothing with the billboard’s image.

'Alright my fellow Infidels for Trump … due to OVERWHELMING demand … you may come by the shop (next week) and get your very own FOUR HORSEMEN COMETH STICKER … simple … eat a piece of bacon … tell us you’re voting for Trump in 2020 … then get your limited edition bumper sticker! (While supplies last!) Snowflakes and Liberals are not eligible … sorry ...'"

- Quote sourced from this Guardian article.

(Update - added August 21/22, 2019) Inset left (above and below) is the current "occupant of the White House" who now refers to himself as the "Chosen One." The graphics were inspired by a photo found at The Daily Beast; I make no copyright claims on either version. Also see: 'I am the Chosen One': with boasts and insults, Trump sets new benchmark for incoherence. BTW, isn't this whole Trump thing beginning to remind you of that old Christopher Walken movie: "The Dead Zone"? Seriously.

"An advertising company has announced it will take down a billboard in Murphy, North Carolina, calling Reps. Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley "idiots." The billboard was promoting a local gun shop, and the shop's owner said he wants to go to court to keep it up.

The billboard received national attention after Cherokee Guns posted a picture of it on Facebook. Cherokee Guns stood by its ad and even sold bumper stickers of it for those who wanted to show support...

...The president tweeted earlier this month that the "'Progressive' Democratic Congresswomen" should "go back" to where they came from, even though three of them were born in the U.S. and the fourth has been a citizen for two decades. Since then, they've been singled out repeatedly by opponents on the right.

On Tuesday, the owner of Cherokee Guns spoke to WTVC-TV. He said the billboard had only been up for a few days, but it had already brought him more business."

- Excerpt from this CBS online news report.

"A shattering weekend in which two mass shootings left at least 29 people dead and injured dozens put Donald Trump at the center of a storm of outrage over racism and the failure on gun control in America.

Even as the president said “hate has no place in our country” and blamed the shootings on mental illness, investigators in El Paso confirmed that a massacre at a Walmart superstore on Saturday that left at least 20 people dead in the Texas border city had been preceded by the suspected gunman publishing an anti-immigration screed via the darker recesses of the internet.

And in a mass shooting in the early hours of Sunday, just 13 hours later, a gunman in Dayton, Ohio, was wearing body armor and carrying 100-bullet magazines to arm his high-powered rifle, with law enforcement warning he could have killed many dozens of people if he had not been shot by police within 30 seconds of opening fire.

The shootings were carried out just a week after a 19-year-old, also armed with a high-caliber rifle, opened fire at a popular annual food festival in Gilroy, northern California, killing three and wounding others."

- Sourced from this August 4, 2019 Guardian report. Also see CNN's Another weekend, two more mass shootings in America. Actually there were 4 mass-shootings in the States this weekend: 2 were in Chicago.

"Gun Violence Archive, frequently cited by the press, defines a mass shooting as firearm violence resulting in at least four people being shot at roughly the same time and location, excluding the perpetrator. Using this definition, there have been 2,128 mass shootings since 2013, roughly one per day.

The United States has had more mass shootings than any other country. Shooters generally either die by suicide afterwards or are restrained or killed by law enforcement officers or civilians. Studies indicate that the rate at which public mass shootings occur has tripled since 2011. Between 1982 and 2011, a mass shooting occurred roughly once every 200 days. However, between 2011 and 2014, that rate has accelerated greatly with at least one mass shooting occurring every 64 days in the United States. According to the non-profit Gun Violence Archive, there were 250 mass shootings between January 1 and August 3, 2019 - the 215th day of the year.

The majority of perpetrators are white males who act alone. According to most analyses and studies however, the proportion of mass shooters in the United States who are white and male is not considerably greater than the proportion of white males in the general population of the US."

- From the Wiki entry for Mass Shootings in the United States. I'm not exactly sure what that last line in the quote proves, but, well, whatever. Another article addressing the mass murderer is this NY Times offering from 2018: "Mass Shooters Are All Different. Except for One Thing: Most Are Men". There is also a short listing of mass shootings in the U.S. found here.


"In Ancient Rome, the Dog Days extended from July 24 through August 24 (or, alternatively July 23-August 23). In many European cultures (German, French, Italian) this period is still said to be the time of the Dog Days.

Dog Days were popularly believed to be an evil time "when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, Quinto raged in anger, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers, hysterics, and frenzies" according to Brady’s Clavis Calendarium, 1813."

- "Dog Days" entry via Wiki.

(Note: I began writing this post Monday, August 6. The Sunday I'm referring to fell on August 5th.)

I woke up in a weird, crappy mood Sunday. Not that this is or was front page news... but,  then again, for some individuals, waking up in a crappy mood means they have to go out and shoot a few people before breakfast, thereby creating the day's Top Story. And, as it worked out, competition was fierce for the top spot this past Sunday with the exploits of four psychopaths clamoring for our attention. I grew more upset than usual, over the sort of "news" which has become so common these days it's like, well, no news at all. But, something about the 4 shootings occurring so close together was oddly familiar... bringing me back to September of 2001, and the utter horror and disbelief I felt while helplessly watching the TV screen as one of the massive Twin Towers began to collapse while, at the same time a plane was surrealistically flying straight into the other (inset right). (BBC video.) While the tragedy of 2001 differed in many ways, the tragedies of this past weekend somehow had a similar effect on me.

Terrorism is, after all, terrorism. One doesn't need to qualify it; its effects are the same regardless of the weapons involved, the perpetrators responsible, or the number of casualties. Presently, in the U.SA., terrorism is an existential scourge brought directly from hell to earth by an emotionally-dead, sociopathic minority: primarily young men who are so out-of-touch with reality that death might be no more than the temporary handicap it is in their virtual worlds. But, is this the whole picture?

Of course, we can always blame recent insanity on the folklore effects of the Dog Days of summer. I have in the past. But, as it was, just as I was following up on the various massacres via the internet that same morning, I came across the billboard (introducing this post). More incredulousness on my part... because on the billboard were the faces of 4 women... 4 members of Congress who were recently disrespected by possibly the most disrespectful President this country has ever seen. Moreover, the billboard seemed to be an odd advertisement for CHEROKEE GUNS (those words beneath "idiots" and "deplorables" in big block letters). Alarmingly, the billboard's purpose seemed to imply that CHEROKEE GUNS had just the solution for removing the four problematic "horsemen"... forever.

The thing is, I was always under the impression that publicly advocating the murder of members of Congress was, in fact, a felony, or, at the very least, a form of sedition. Certainly, I can't recall ever seeing anything like it before. Had there been four male members of Congress on that sign, we can rest assured that the reaction would've been a bit more extreme... and CHEROKEE GUNS wouldn't have gotten as far as the T-shirt/bumper sticker phase. So, what gives? Boys will be boys... eh, Meryl?*

You do realize, of course, that singling out four women in this way is not very far from the "Burn witch, burn!" mindset of the not-too-distant past. So, for those who feel women have made immense, unassailable strides across the board and need fight no further... well, the billboard informs us that this is not the case... certainly not in the States. In global terms a recent World Bank study concluded that there are only 6 countries which have equal rights for men and women: Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden. But, I'm not convinced that any country is a truly safe haven for women. And, obviously, in the States, nobody is safe, regardless of gender. And this malaise increases exponentially if your skin isn't white enough, your gender is ambiguous, and/or your path through life diverges in any way from the mainstream.

But, it wasn't always like this. There was a time - and it truly wasn't all that long ago - when, at the very least, kids could go to school in most places without the threat of being shot and killed. As late as the early 1980s women could walk alone in downtown Manhattan at night without being raped... or knifed on the subway when they went home. A family outing wasn't necessarily an invitation to the Grim Reaper. A trip to a department store to buy curtains was not a suicidal proposition. Mass shootings had yet to become the norm...

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

A Fine, Vintage Wine - Happy Birthday, Judy Chicago!

Judy Chicago. Photo credit:Martin Godwin. (Source: this interview.)

Judy Chicago turns 80 this month... but, don't imagine for a moment she's going to let the day slip by with merely a sigh and a whimper; she's celebrating it with a bang!

First up, she's launching her new, designer wine - Judy Chicago (inset right) - inspired by her feminist art organization's Through the Flower motif - just in time for the Grand Opening of her new Art Space this Saturday, July 20, 2019, for which she's giving tours all weekend.

She's also showing a film, having a wine release party, having a Pop-Up exhibition AND a special firework's performance: A Birthday Bouquet for Belen.

All these events are open to the public, so if you just happen to be in New Mexico, well, drop by! More info can be found here and here.

By the way, here's a little more info regarding Chicago's new Art Space. As it happened, she recieved a proposal late last year by the (dirt-poor) city of Belen's mayor and town councilor: the creation of a museum in Belen dedicated to one of the most notorious feminist artists in America... Chicago, herself!

Alas, it seems as if a group of religious-right fanatics opposed the museum. I quote Alisa Valdes from her Alibi article appearing earlier this year:

"Speaking to the Times, a member of the Calvary Chapel, located in Belen's old WalMart (of course it is) 19 year old Lacey Greet, explained her opposition to the museum thus:

'As Christians, we are for order, justice, security and protection. I'm for protecting the eyes of children.'"

Oh, yes, we see... NOT!

As it was, Valdes had the sneaky suspicion that Chicago's "Jewishness" might have been at the root of all this "righteousness," but, then, racism and sexism are symptoms of the same malady that has infected America for some time now: Trumpism and the empowerment of the evil far-right.

Inset left is a tapestry banner from Chicago's 1974 Dinner Party (for discerning eyes only). It reads: "And then all that divided them merged."

Anyway, not to worry; Judy declined the original offer and took the matter into her own capable hands. She set up a Go-Fund-Me page to pay for the new Through the Flower Art Space... and the rest is herstory! (More here.)

As for the Grand Opening, well, I'm hoping to be there... although the present state of my car might thwart my efforts. In any case, from all of us to all of her:



Note: Ironically, the New Mexico town of Belen - apparently a hot-bed of Christian righteousness - shares its name with a pagan sun-god! His name is Belenus, which is the Romanized version of Bel or Belen. Beltane is his fire festival. Sourced from this article, we have:

"Based on surviving inscriptions and archaeological remains, Belenus was among the most widely venerated and beloved deities of the Celtic world. The center of his venerations seems to have been in France, where the most artifacts have been uncovered, but inscriptions dedicated to him have been found from the British Isles to Slovenia.

Belenus’ shrines often incorporated therapeutic springs. He may have dominion over the healing power of the sun. An erotic spirit, he may be a spirit of reproductive fertility for people and livestock. He is sometimes called the Lord of Flocks."

For more info about Belen see here, and - if you're on Facebook  - check out Hecate's Haven.

And, you know, the town of Belen might think about having its own Beltane fire festival. Judy Chicago could do one of her fireworks displays. Inset right: remember this guy?

Monday, July 8, 2019

Artistic Empowerment in a Dark Age

Hello again. Just in case you thought I died, I thought it might be a good idea to drop by and put in an appearance.

Below is something I was inspired to write yesterday. It felt like it came out the blue but, when I got to thinking about it, I realized that what I'd done was list some of the underlying elements of empowerment I'd discovered during the course of researching and writing about other artists. (Re: the empowerment posts of which 2 are yet-to-come). (Yes, you heard right: the initial "last" empowerment post has propagated into 2...)(And, yes, I'm living in a metropolis of rabbit-holes!)

Anyway, the list is not gender-specific. Also, although I'm not sure how much of it will hold up in the coming months, there's a chance I'll be referring to it again. Or scrapping it altogether.

Incidentally, the small oil paintings appearing here were painted early in my artistic herstory and were precursors to the images found here. I wish I had access to a similar sort of list then!


10 Strategies for Survival as an Artist

I. Don't feel as if you must always "go it alone." Join a group, form a collective. There is safety and strength in numbers. Even if you must initially isolate yourself always keep in mind that there are individuals like yourself who need to express themselves in similar ways. Keep an eye out for them. You may need help that only they can provide... and vice versa. Create a Movement; it draws attention. While categorization is a superficial goal, having a general location - politically, stylistically or philosophically - might work to your advantage.

2. When in doubt, build larger. The meek do not inherit the earth. If you believe in what you are doing then make a bold statement. It is a statement which will become a part of the historical and herstorical records. Like the Egyptian pyramids, it will last indisputabley; it will be impossible to overlook or ignore.

3. Do something unexpected. Surprise yourself. Don't be afraid to evolve. Make your work a playground... a laboratory.

4. Express yourself in several dimensions. Likewise, find your inspiration in several more; many dimensions of experience are layered within the psyche. An artist needs to explore these hidden dimensions... to go where few humans have gone before. In a sense it is an artist's job, his or her truest vocation. We are here to explore the hidden, the forgotten, the damned, the invisible... the places no one looks for truth... the places it hides.

5. Find support... whether it's in the form of a mentor, a patron, a benefactor, a partner or a true friend. Know your allies. Realize that fate may not always come to your rescue, but that your inner self will champion you at all times. Your true fortitude, your salvation, lies within. Meanwhile, you may have to take on laborious jobs for physical survival...  or utilize commercial ways to finance larger projects, but never let a source of income be your only guide and never let the dictates of society weaken your resolve. Demand the society of angels.

6. Celebrate your physical legacy; embrace your genetic heritage: the people and places you originated from. And, then, rise above them. You are a unique expression in a continuum. You are a new explication in a morphic field.  You are an alchemical point in which all symmetries are unbound and a crucible in which all impossibilities are born. Through you new landscapes emerge and dreams achieve substance.

7. Celebrate yourself. It's uplifting to expand your expression to include your appearance. Be a child dressing up in a mirror. But don't, for any reason, let current trends or societal prejudices define your choices... specifically those dealing with weight, gender, chronological age, and skin color. Gender profiling is passé. Age profiling is society's way of creating new landfills. Skin color is only relevant here when choosing a complimentary shade of accessory. Defy convention. Have fun. Pretend you have just met yourself for the first time.

8. Find your inner, mysterious "other half" who compliments and completes you. Jung referred to this entity as the animus - a woman's inner man - and the anima, a man's inner woman. But, this wasn't merely psychobabble; the anima and animus exist. And, for an artist, acknowledging and accepting this dual-gender aspect in their psyches is crucial to initiate, enrich and perpetuate all creative acts. The greatest, most effective art is not sexist in a derogatory way; your inner opposite enables you to rise above sexism. Moreover, It will enable you to express your humanity as a whole person without recourse to superficial displays of worn-out gender tropes.

9. Find joy in your creations. This is the truest, most heroic subversion of all the falseness you have been taught and indoctrinated to believe. You are not here to suffer. You are here to overcome suffering. Let your muse show you the way. Illustrate what you've learned. Sing, if only to yourself. Write poetry (it renews the spirit). Dance wherever it is not allowed.

10. Set all winged creatures free.

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Lady From Lavinium

A fragment of a life-sized terracotta statue of an Etruscan woman
from ancient Lavinium housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
(Click-on images to enlarge)

"The legendary king Aeneas, father of the Latin race, fled from Troy to Macedonia, then Sicily, and finally to the Italian peninsula. There he founded a city called Lavinium (modern Pratica di Mare), a site eighteen miles south of Rome, which became a major religious center for the Latin people. The distinctive clothing and jewelry on this life-sized statue closely resemble those on fourth and third century B.C. terracottas found there. The elaborate necklaces and armband appear to be reproduced from molds of actual jewelry. Some of the pendants are decorated with reliefs depicting various Etruscan deities and heroes. Originally, this woman wore a pair of grape-cluster earrings. The one on her left ear is visible behind her long hair. When complete, the statue probably stood in a sanctuary and showed the young woman holding an incense box in her extended right hand. This rare statue is an exceptional example of the awakening sophistication of Italic artists, who over the following two centuries fused native traditions with imported ones and gave birth to the multifaceted art of Late Republican Rome."

- A description of the Lady from Lavinium - the terracotta statue fragment (shown centered above and inset right) from this New York Metropolitan Museum page. (Note: I am somewhat flummoxed as to why this statue is referred to as having "long" hair when, in fact it's shorter and straighter than the hair on most statues of women from any time period.)

"The tradition of making sculpture in terracotta represents one of the signal artistic accomplishments of ancient Italian cultures before and during the rise of Rome as the dominant regional power... The first recorded artist names on the peninsula in fact belong to sculptors who worked in clay, Vulca of Veii and Gorgasus and Damophilus of Magna Graecia...

Mass produced and finished by hand, terracottas were ubiquitous in the ancient Mediterranean. Usually modest in scale, statuettes circulated widely over long periods and through multiple generations of molds, providing critical evidence for regional styles, patterns of trade, and local cults. Commonly found in dwellings, graves, and sanctuaries, terracottas gave tangible form both to private spiritual beliefs and to public religious observances."

- An excerpt sourced from this .pdf. Inset left is a more common, classically-featured terracotta head from the same period.

"I began to feel an overwhelming obligation to question history. As a woman, I wanted to take this idea one step further. Since the dawn of written records, the vast majority of materials that scholars consider academically acceptable have been created by men of a certain social and political strata. We believe, usually without question, in the veracity of documents simply because they can be "authenticated" to a specific time period. Rarely do we take into account that they were written during darker days when women held a status lower than livestock and were believed to have no souls! How many magnificent stories have been lost to us because the women who starred in them weren't deemed important enough, even human enough, to merit mention? How many woman have been removed completely from history? And, would this apply most certainly to the women of the first century?"

- From the novel The Expected One by Kathleen McGowen (2006).

 "A new generation might forget where their freedoms came from, drifting back once again into the sandbar of silence. Sara Evans thinks that concern helps explain why so many second-wave women became scholars. 'Certainly I am not the only historian,' she writes, 'who wishes to spare the next generation the rage we experienced about having been cut off from our own history in all its complexity.'"

- Excerpt from Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, 2007.


No, this post is not another interlude; it's actually what would've and should've been a prelude to the entire series of empowerment posts I've been slowly churning out for months; the last of which (alas) is still "under construction." As it happened, I was looking through a book on classical Greek and Roman art the other day when I came upon the photo (seen above) of a statue of an anonymous woman from Lavinium, a port city in ancient Italy. I confess, I was startled. It is so unlike what one expects to find when looking at classical art, either Roman, Greek, Etruscan, Celtic, etc.  She almost seems medieval except that this isn't possible; she was created well over 2000 years ago. And, yet, nothing about the woman's image (inset right) is classical; not even the length of her neck. Note the intensity in her eyes, the generous mouth, her 20th century hairstyle: a straight bob framing her face. Note, too, her striking individuality, the unmistakable character in her face; she's an actual woman, not a generic, idealized version of a woman.

Then again, maybe it's just me. Perhaps, I'm merely in the dark about the true scope of ancient art and there's nothing anomalous about this piece at all. But, then again, much of Lavinium art from this period has only recently come to light.* And, what is coming to light is fairly strange. There is, for instance, the discovery of thousands of buried sculptures of various human body parts - referred to as "votives" - found all across Italy. The hypotheses is that they were offerings to the gods and goddesses in hopes of regaining health for various physical afflictions. Some of them are pictured below. (See the article: Why were thousands of clay body parts buried in ancient Italy?)

In any case, something tells me that sculptors in the early Roman empire were in high demand, not to mention highly respected. And, I would assume that many of the gynecological-related body parts were very often created by those who knew them best: women. And, as there's thousands of them, I'm guessing they must've worked!

Oddly enough, our lady from Lavinium looks very much like a statue I thought I saw in a cemetery a number of years ago while photographing its impressive grave monuments. Unfortunately, it was late in the day, so, I decided to come back and photograph her the following day. But, this was not to be. Eerily, after returning to the graveyard as intended, and searching for her for over two hours, I couldn't find her. I began to fear that I never saw the statue to begin with, and, slowly it occurred to me that, no, I actually hadn't. Because, when I really thought about it, the statue in my memory did not have the same classical facial features as every single one of the other statues in the cemetery. It also occurred to me that, In my memory, she was standing with a bluish glow around her as if it were nightfall and she was standing beneath the moon. But, this could not have been true; I had left the cemetery at twilight.

In the end I concluded the statue must have appeared in a dream I experienced the night before... an anomalous statue of a woman holding a chalice in one hand and a disc in the other... more like a pagan goddess than anything you'd find in a Roman Catholic cemetery in New England. Which was very spooky at the time and disorientating.... especially because I had confused reality with a dream.

So, what was that all about? To this day I don't know. But, seeing the lady of Lavinium opened that particular file in my memory banks. In other words, I guess it kind of shook me up to encounter a similar anomalous statue again.

As it was, smaller terracotta pieces were numerous in Rome and Greece at the time, allegedly made by men (of course) who were referred to as "modelers of girls." I don't think our featured statue portrayed a girl, however. She was young, but judging by her low-hanging breasts, a young adult. Speaking of her breasts, I also note that they are small and uneven, that is, not symmetrical - hardly the idealized specimens we'd expect in a work of art. Normally, I would not make a point of addressing this, but, as breasts are one of the issues that surface in my upcoming empowerment post I might as well broach the topic here.

Let's face it, one part of a woman's anatomy male artists - especially classical artists - would not fail to idealize is a woman's breasts... the fuller and more perfectly round the better.** In fact, one gets the impression that if it weren't for breasts, there would be a great deal less art and fewer male artists!

But, I digress. It was, however, with this thought in mind, that I had a kind of epiphany. And, this is how it went: there are few male artists who would devote their efforts to the expression on a woman's face while, at the same time, completely overlook the contours of her chest. Inset right is a perfect example of what a man might produce (no, darlings, the delicate folds of her headdress were not designed to frame her face). So, I think we can safely say, this is the work of a male artist. The lady from Lavinium, however, well, I have a strange intuition that she may have been a woman's work. Moreover, the woman was a renegade and a genius. In terms of enigmatic expressions, the Mona Lisa has nothing on our Lady of Lavinium!

And, yes, it could've happened. Etruscan women were amongst the more liberated women of the classical world and some assume the lady was created by an Etruscan artist. Moreover, we mustn't forget those fierce Italian women painters of the Italian Renaissance. Did we actually assume they appeared out of thin air? No, I don't believe they did. Others came before them; ancestors from a pre-Christian world and, specifically, a pagan world.*** So, if I were an art historian, you can bet I'd do a lot of digging around this particular place and time period. Perhaps, there are more silenced voices we need to listen to... and there is no time like the present.

As for the lady of Lavinium, she might be gazing into a mirror... assessing herself, scrutinizing herself as if she were, in actuality, her own subject. Might this be the case: our lady from Lavinium was a sculptress who modeled her own portrait in clay? Stranger things have happened.


* According to information found on this history blog page, the Lavinium Archaeological Museum wasn't opened till 2005 due to a lot of red tape involving private land owners, bureaucrats and the "Archaeological Superintendency for metropolitan Rome." Apparently, in 2017, the archaeological site itself had just been opened to visitors.

Inset left is one of the terracotta statue fragments featured in the museum: an amazing woman holding what appears to be an elegantly-shaped container of some sort. Everything about this noblewoman is outstanding and has an almost contemporary appeal... from her clothing to the expression on her face. (Note: I want that hat!)

I think I've seen the future... and it looks like this woman...

(... and, it looks as if this woman is empowered.)

** Interestingly, classical statues of women often featured asymmetrical breasts; that is, one breast was often larger or differently-shaped than the other and/or misaligned with the other. We can see this on the lady from Lavinium as well. But, why was this, do you suppose? Was it some sort of code known only to artists?  Or, possibly a symbolic tribute to Amazonian culture and the warrior women who allegedly removed one breast?

Whatever the case, I found that bit of information on this wonderful UK site from 2013: Nemi to Nottingham: In the Footsteps of Fundilia. Happily, it seems as if other women - actual scholars - are also asking questions about pre-Christian artifacts... specifically those found at Nemi near the Temple of Diana... which somehow made their way to Nottingham Castle museum in the UK. Nemi, incidentally, was an area of ancient Latium as was Lavinium.

The website specifically centers on one enigmatic statue (as this post does): the Herm of Fundilla... who was allegedly sculpted by the "actor" Fundilius. Hmmm... you should definitely check out Fundilia!

*** How and why a pre-Christian civilization might allow a woman more equality and autonomy than the sum total of the patriarchal religious/political structures which followed is easily illustrated by the pagan pantheons of gods and goddesses; particularly (but not limited to) those deemed highest in the hierarchy.

In both Greece and Rome there were 12 major dieties: 6 male gods and 6 goddesses. Of the goddesses, 3 were virgin - Minerva (Menrva or Athena), Diana (Artemis), and Vesta (Hestia) - that is, without offspring. So, while there were most certainly Mother Goddesses for women to identify with, emulate and seek help from, there were also goddesses for women who would never bear children, either due to physical disability, personal preference, economic hardship... or lack of a mate. In other words, the virgin goddesses might have represented an honorable place in society for women who chose (or, were "chosen" for) an alternative route through life, up to and including those of artistic, intellectual and even mystical persuasion (i.e., the sibyls, and the vestals). Inset left is a Roman mosaic of an androgynous Minerva with an image of a gorgon on her chest.

Incidentally, the Etruscans had a very surprising sacred trinity. It was composed of 1 god and two goddesses: Tinia and his wife, Uni, and their daughter, Menrva!  Menrva was the Etruscan equivalent of Minerva (Athena), virgin goddess of wisdom, war, art, education, and medicine. She was also a lightning deity. (Note: the Celtic equivalent of Minerva might be Sulis.)

Meanwhile, the goddess Diana (inset right), although a virgin herself, was the goddess of childbirth and women in general. In her Wiki entry we read:

"Diana is the only pagan goddess mentioned by name in the New Testament (Acts 19). As a result, she became associated with many folk beliefs involving goddess-like supernatural figures that Catholic clergy wished to demonize.

In the Middle Ages, legends of night-time processions of spirits led by a female figure are recorded in the church records of Northern Italy, western Germany, and southern France. The spirits were said to enter houses and consume food which then miraculously re-appeared. They would sing and dance, and dispense advise regarding healing herbs and the whereabouts of lost objects. If the house was in good order, they would bring fertility and plenty. If not, they would bring curses to the family. Some women reported participating in these processions while their bodies still lay in bed. Historian Carlo Ginzburg has referred to these legendary spirit gatherings as "The Society of Diana."


Lastly, there were the mysterious sibyls - oracles, prophetesses and trance mediums - who allegedly channeled the gods.  Above are two sibyls from the Sistine Chapel painted by Michaelangelo. The first (left) is the Greek Delphic sibyl reading a scroll, and the second (right) is the amazing sibyl of Cumae studying a book... possibly one of the Sibylline Books of prophecies about which Wiki relates this legend:

"Centuries ago, concurrent with the 50th Olympiad, not long before the expulsion of Rome's kings, an old woman "who was not a native of the country" arrived incognita in Rome. She offered nine books of prophecies to King Tarquin; and as the king declined to purchase them, owing to the exorbitant price she demanded, she burned three and offered the remaining six to Tarquin at the same stiff price, which he again refused, whereupon she burned three more and repeated her offer. Tarquin then relented and purchased the last three at the full original price, whereupon she "disappeared from among men."

I love that story.