I wanted to apply my usual care for the small details that has been present in most of my body of work to create a large-scale piece that had the capacity to create a depth of conversation that my other work was never capable of. I got to use the last quarter of my undergrad to not just cater to a carefully outlined assignment, but instead, intentionally design a piece of art that aligned with my artistic voice and would challenge my skill and my motive. Here is a snippet from my artist statement so that this whole thing makes a bit more sense:
“My artwork exists in order to create a bridge between the intimacy and richness of the feminine experience and those who are willing to try to understand it. My body of work is not directly autobiographical, it’s a response to our story, my story and the story of the woman who never got a chance to share hers. My work is honest and true, it approaches simple realities which largely affect a woman’s identity, but are stifled because of a long-standing history that has refused to acknowledge and validate a woman’s experience.”
I created a challenge for myself: how do I create a conversation about honest feminism in a culture where feminism, regardless of intent, has gross implications that isolate the majority? What I basically mean is: how do I accomplish my goal of discussing the honesty of a woman’s experience without making it something that is fueled by political rage?
I am largely interested in the studying of activist art, artwork being created in today’s world by artists who respond to modern and historical injustices, events, and ideas through their art. Some of which are effective and transforming and others, are frankly weak. But the thing is, all of it is saying something, it’s rich in content and I love that. So, on the road to me trying to figure out why in the world I consider myself a maker and what I’m trying to do and say through my art, I started diving into the voice and the work of artists who compel me to think and whose work challenges me. Artists like Tracey Emin, Ai Wei Wei, Renee Cox, Janine Antoni, Kara Walker, and Judy Chicago have been some of those people for me. That’s what I want to do: make people think. Make people talk and ask questions.
It must have been through some day dream of mine that I started planning what I would do for the two and half months I had left of my undergraduate degree. I had an image in my head of a flowing installation piece constructed out of feminine pads. I had worked with pads as a material before in another piece and found them to be the foundation for a visually interesting and conceptually compelling piece. (And maybe part of me wanted redemption for my failure found in that previous piece…but I hate to admit that part). And eventually, in my existential train of thought that often travels into another dimension, I stumbled upon the thought of creating a quilt that would be suspended in front of a wall, casting deep shadows. Because what better to do with that two and half month timeline breathing down my neck than to take up and entirely new skill that by its nature is entirely time consuming? I tried to talk myself out of this idea several times, but my mind clung to it, I almost felt like I had to.
So, I started researching the history of quilting, quilters, and quilts in general and almost became obsessed with the way that the research I was gathering would coincide with my voice, with what I was trying to do through the piece. I started to discover they ways in which quilts were used as a story-telling mechanism and the implications of the woven forms representing the woman experience and their interwoven stories and I couldn’t get enough of it. Now, throughout history, feminist artists have received criticism for art that “embraces” femininity by intentionally utilizing female stereotypes, rather than combatting them. I’m referring to instances such as the prominence of intricate sewing displayed in Judy Chicago’s ‘The Dinner Party,” a task that is historically only females would complete, thus critics suggesting Chicago was buying into the stereotype. I happen to love what she was doing there, embracing this idea, creating conversation.
I decided to sew a nearly 6×6 foot quilt…now listen, previously, the most I had ever sewed is a button on a shirt. The learning curve was steep, no doubt, but it was about the process and as it turns out, I made a freaking quilt. I started by weaving 6 pantiliners together to create a small square and ended up sewing 100 of these squares, 600 pads in total, by hand, with a simple, sharp needle and white thread. I would spend hours upon hours seated in an old office chair, weaving the thread through the thick layers of cotton, some stitches nice and tight and others showed my lack of skill. But they got better with each square. As I stitched the pads together, I couldn’t help but think about history of the activity that I was doing, how many women have spent long, laborious days and nights sewing quilts. So part of this whole process became centered around the physical act of me sewing each of these pads to another one. It started to grow. These small, relatable squares transformed into a large, nearly useful and practical-seeming blanket. It reads formally and as though it has a history…gosh, I love that. But when you walk closer, you are able to detect the forms for their prescribed use. “Ew,” some would say. Others would question my choice with doubt and then there would be those who asked why with curiosity and intent to learn. It’s not so much about menstruation (certainly that is there, sure), but using that small fraction of a woman’s makeup as a representation or symbol of the generalizations that people understand to be what and who a woman is.
The subtle floral pattern on the pads, the tiny bows that create a pattern on the surface, and the fabrics used for the binding and the backing act as some sort of ID tag, or a badge that a woman could connect with. I remember all of the ribbons that would tie my locks of hair into place as a young girl, or the tiny bows that I would tie onto my American Girl doll’s delicate clothing. I remember the pattern of that fabric being on my Bitty Baby’s pajamas. Or that pattern that reminds me of my grandma’s old nightgowns. I remember noticing the details printed on the pantiliners when I first became old enough to use them. Standing in front of the quilt is a place to embrace those memories and to remember our story.
You know, during the initial development of my idea, I was told that I shouldn’t focus on what I don’t want this piece to be because I won’t have the ability to dictate people’s reactions to it, but for me, I do want to focus on that. I understand that the piece may be a reach for some or may not connect with others, But it’s important for me that someone…anyone is able to stumble upon the quilt and process that it quite honestly, is about connectivity. It’s about the reality of a woman’s experience, their story. It’s not about the politic-centric contemporary artist’s message…that stuff has its place. But that’s not my thing.
Below is a photo of the completed quilt. It is 5.5 feet square.