This spring Tel Aviv had their annual art fair: Fresh Paint with a main pavilion and satellite galleries all over the city. My exhibit “We’re All in the Same Boat” was exhibited at Kuchinate, African Women’s Refugee Collective, curated by Tamar Lamdan and Carmite Shine of Two Curators.
Kuchinate was founded by Dr. Diddy Mymin Kahn and Sister Aziza Kidane to provide a community of support, employment and guidance for these women. Kuchinate makes beautiful woven, handmade baskets to sell and they are adding more handmade items to their collection. http://www.kuchinate.com
My life-sized boat and ten life-sized dolls greatly impacted the viewers; the scale of the piece helped the audience relate to the refugees and their situation. I also believe that we’re not used to seeing “dolls” sad or suffering or life-sized rather small, delicate and beautiful; large dolls were also a shocking sight which helped convey the plight of refugees. The 2.5 meter long row boat was made from cardboard, wood and duct tape, the refugee dolls were needle felted from wool; the project took 2.5 months to create. The refugees were depicted from many different countries and different periods in time. Many viewers shared their own stories of displacement and hardship, making us realize that all of us are at risk for one reason or another.
The only doll in the boat that I didn’t leave for the audience to decide for themselves the ethnicity or situation of the refugee doll was the young Polish refugee girl. The only real interaction and deep understanding of a personal situation with a refugee I’ve ever had is my mother-in-law, Sida Beck Levitas. Sida was a hidden child during WWII, because of her big blue eyes and very blond hair she passed as a Christian during the Holocaust. Most of the stories we know about her from this time period are from her brother, Arther Beck who was also a hidden child. Sida doesn’t like to talk about this time in her life because it gives her nightmares for weeks. We’ve seen how the refugee situation she endured affected the rest of her life and I’m sure all refugees suffer similar long lasting effects. Sida is 92 and lives in Tel Aviv, Israel.
The life-sized dolls were needle felted over a wire and wood armature, the larger dolls used a wooden-easel method to help them sit sturdily. The sculptures have glass doll eyes and polymer-clay teeth.
I wanted to represent various situations in the boat, depression, seriousness, fear and even hope. One of the big questions I had was what do the children do during these long, dangerous journeys, do they run about, peer over the sides of the boat or play with other children? I was told by one of the African refugees that the smugglers would yell at anyone talking or making noise. Everyone including the children would be hit with a stick to keep them in line.
I know that many of the refugees around the world are religious, so I made the praying boy at the front of the boat as a sign of hope.
Do we think critically when we think about issues of nudity, sex, modesty or nudity in art? I tend to believe that most of us don’t question these issues and all that they may affect; I think most of us rely on what were were taught when we were very young. My feminist pieces are for myself as much as they’re for the public; I’m exploring some of the things I was taught about sex and nudity as a child-I’m pushing my boundaries. I’ve recently (I’m in my 50’s) learned some very basic facts about the female anatomy that I never knew! Why have I not discovered these things till now?!!!!! I’m well read and I don’t live under a rock but I can guess that I didn’t know that all female vulvas look very different from each other because the topic is taboo. Did you ever notice how many women’s issues that men tend to control? Ask yourself questions like this and see if you can answer them, are you satisfied with that answer? I want my art to make you questions things, to think about things that fall under “that’s just the way we do things”.
I’ve begun to think about why can’t women’s nipples be shown, why does anyone care when women breastfeed in public, why do we cringe when we see naked bodies, why are female bodies sexualized? The news article that made me start to really question a seemingly simple issue was where a teenage girl was sent home because her bra straps were showing in school (this happens a lot in the U.S.A. apparently). I really wondered why this was so offensive to adults in the school.
In my opinion, it came down to the fact that people were looking at this student sexually-“the girls were distracting the men and boys at the school” and the powers that be needed to control her, to tell her how to dress rather than teaching all students to normalize the female body.
As I’ve gotten older and lived in another culture and become acquainted with people from many different cultures than my own, I’ve noticed how different cultures feel about nudity, feminism and issues about sex. It’s intriguing to ask why different cultures can feel so differently about the same issues.
The Bra Series that I call Support Women has been interpreted mostly as wonderful or disgusting. The biggest challenge about the bra and pantie art is how hard it is for some to see naked body parts and not think “dirty”, “nasty”, “shameful”; they feel anger in many cases and then they shut off their thinking process and become defiant. I ask myself why can’t people see nudity without attaching feelings of disgust to them.
One woman commented that the Pussy Panties sculpture reminded her of something she’d see in “Hustler” magazine. My long term goal as a society would be that we can look at body parts and not immediately associate them with sex or something dirty.
I’ve posted many of my nude pieces on different art sites on line. The comments are priceless, funny and very revealing. I’d like to share some of the best ones with you!
“This is nothing to joke about. This week for the firs time, in years, I touched my toes. Unfortunately, it was with my boobs!” S. Durbin
“My mom said sh wished she’d gotten roses tattooed on her breasts when she was young so when she got old she’d always have long stemmed roses.” D. Rohan-Smith
“I call mine downward facing dogs. They are the most relaxed boobs ever. Super chill.” T. Sanderson
“I used to have pointers, now I have setters! C. Richie Robinson
“Do your boobs hang low, do they wobble to and fro, can you tie them in a knot, can you tie them in a bow?” S. Rigby
“can you throw them orever your shoulder, like a regimental soldier, Do your booooobs haaaaang, looooooow? ” P. Addison
“Mine point down. F’n gravity” D. Wade
“This is tit-tacular.” K. Walker
“I was about to say tit-ilating!” L. Crowely
“What? No Facebook take down yet? Yer slackin’ here Zuck! K. Washedai
“I find this in league with Hustler magazine. Graphic pornography as opposed to depicting the female form as beautiful in art.” S. Frank Cooper
“This should be displayed somewhere. Preferably a capital building where laws are passed.” T. K. Au Buchon
“Amazing! It makes me uncomfortable but….in a good way.” C. Allen
“Me too!, Gotta always challenge those lines!!!! That’s how we grow. C.Trimino-Pepper
“I am curious where revulsion and disgust at naked forms comes from. Shame? Embarrassment? Trauma?” Z. Hawes
“I was a nurse in a Catholic monastery co Ed boarding school. Where they let a Monk write the sexual health policy…..” Z. Hawes
This piece won a spot in Felt: Fiber Transformed, Fiber Art Now‘s spring exhibition, summer 2019 (A great magazine for textile lovers)
“If I were naming it, I’d call it ‘letting go’. And not in a ‘I let myself go’ kind of way, in a ‘let go of what people think kind of way.’ I spent so many years of my life vomiting up everything I ate to avoid this body type. And then on day I knew I would die. So I let go, continued to live as healthy as I could and married a man that loves me as I am, puffy nipples, round tummy, double china and all. I love myself more than I ever did at 96 pounds.” J.K Doyle
“How is this empowering? I’m confused!” S. McMichael
“I think it’s more about double standards, men being able to walk around with bare nipples and no one batting an eye, while as a woman you can’t even breastfeed in public without being shamed and such? F. Geerd
“For hundreds of year that has been the standard in the US! I just don’t get how a face on a nipple is empowering! Perhaps I’m too old to educate.” S. McMichael
“Just because something is the standard, doesn’t mean it’s right.. F. Geerd
” I love it!
And if anyone gives you problems about posting it, just tell them that it’s a male nipple-that magically makes them okay to show! S. Snyder