Thursday, October 16, 2008
Around the same time that this idea began taking shape, Toni Thomas from the Catfish Friday women's artist collective contacted me about participation in the Newark Open Doors Studio Tour '08. The show, Multiple Me, will feature pieces that the artists have created as part of a series. There really are no coincidences.
I love working in fiber. Sewing for me is spiritual and meditative. Fiber is soft warm comforting elemental primal strong resilient sensuous womb-manlike. It comforts and protects. I imagine the earliest humans walking upright then yearning for something soft and warm to cover themselves. Leaves bark skins – eventually they start weaving elements together into fiber. The women dye it with mud and berries to make it beautiful. Berry red, indigo blue, moss green, saffron yellow. They stitch shells and bone to it for ornamentation.
I also love working with clay for the faces. It's messy like making mud pies. Somehow, I keep making variations of the same face. It is the face of my grandmother. I am always struck by how magestically African she looks.
My encounters with the women artists of Catfish Friday have been mind expanding and life changing. They have encouraged me to see myself as an artist and story teller, and to realize that the work has value outside of me. Everybody is moved by the dolls on a primal level, which was surprising and extremely gratifying. One sister, an accomplished sculptor, came up to me at the July show and whispered that she had 5 brothers growing up, and never owned a doll. We were both near tears, understanding that as grown women, we have to give ourselves the same permission to play and imagine as we command ourselves to work and responsibility. (Interestingly, I find that male artists always want to challenge and critique and question the artistic choices I make - "why did you use this line?", "why is her stomache so big and her butt so small?" Stuff like that. Men tend to value their work and worth, intrinsically. They will put a crazy-high price on what they do, sometimes even if its not good. We women tend to value everything and everyone else first - then maybe ourselves last if at all. I ain't mad at the brothers, though. There is a lesson in this somewhere. But I really enjoy working with women artists. Their critique tends to be kinder, gentler and non-competitive, which suits me. The only competition that matters is your competition with self.
I still play with dolls. I hope I can encourage other women to play with dolls, too.