I use a folk art associated with female silence and oppression to expose the taboo female body and the political turmoil happening around it. I embroider women captured in positions of powerlessness and extreme vulnerability, in compositions further broadcast by stencils and mass-culture tags. I resist the puritanism of institutionalized feminism. I reclaim the complexity of the feminine experience. I am drawn to the marriage of Eastern and Western forms: the lyricism and sensuality of the stitch juxtaposed with the speed and illustrative flatness of pop late capitalism. Embroidery is a source of pleasure for women, even as it showcases our unpaid labor and neglected individuality, and teaches us quietude, order, household industriousness — the constraints of femininity. As with building a house, needlework takes patience. As any repetition, it is ritualistic, like reciting a chant or prayer. The dogged manual toil channels body memories of age-old rites of fertility and devotion. As it was for my ancestors, it is my meditation, my grounding, my protestation and my drug of choice: I stitch stress away. I take embroidery with me everywhere, as old women did in the old country. Wherever I go, I make bonds. Strangers tell me their embroidery narratives, share generations-old family memories, feel both nostalgic and reassured by encountering embroidery in the gallery setting. And people who typically have no appreciation for ‘high’ art embrace my work because they feel comfortable with the medium. Stitching is a cultural icebreaker, at the same time that it is a cultural resistance to the formal limitations of high art. It opens up borders. My stitches reconnect me to generations of caretakers and makers who passed on to me their elaborate handiwork as my dowry — the talismanic blessing a bride takes from her maternal home, which I keep in cedar-lined trunks until I pass it on to my daughter. I embroider on vintage hand-woven linen, hemp or silk fabrics with hand-dyed floss and I recently learned from my elders how to use fruit and vegetables to dye threads and how to use the loom I inherited that was gathering cobwebs in my garage. Traditionally, all of my work would go to my daughter on her wedding day in a sealed wooden trunk that symbolizes entrapment. Instead, I hang it on walls in the center of the most heavily walked strip of my American city. It’s a pleasure.
My ancestors knew that watching drama is mesmerizing that’s why they used theater w all spectators’ eyes focused on actors shouting out from a stage w amazing acoustics in the center of a marble amphitheater. The playwrights viewed their writing as educational but also promotional, meaning written to sway public opinion. They used humor (eg, Lysistrata) what made them famous is how effectively they used conflict & suspense to create fear & awe. The modern media have replaced the open air stage which stimulated all the senses w the screen so the emphasis is on seeing sth that attracts our attention & hearing sth that gives us fear & awe & suspense.
Are we really that primal/predictable? Yes.
The Internet simply expanded the geography the marketplace the ancient agora. Twitter Facebook simply amplified the gossip mill of the water well. Instagram expanded the post-dinner promenade.
Suspense is a mobile composed of life-size plexiglass illustrations of artistic representations of temple adorants, priestesses, mothers and seers, all suspended from the ceiling and hanging freely in whatever available public space in continuous subtle movement and silent conversation with the psyche of the audience. The work marries my Eastern and Western heritages, my masculine and feminine work ethics, my DNA and my hopes for the future in an evocation of tropes that I hope are provocative but indescribable, irresistible and impossible to define in neat categories.
Bathers is my homage to the history of artistic representation of the fecund woman at the water source from Paleolithic caves to the 20th century artistic masters. I hand-stitched life size archetypes on a type of canvas canvas that could be used as a tent in the desert or a makeshift temple in a natural habitat. I found the many hundreds of hours spent in this activity liberating as well as meditative, and as I stitched I imagined post-patriarchal post-archic post-climate-crisis nomadic societies where these artworks would make holistic sacred sense and offer continuity.
This is a view of my artist studio before I had to shut it down in early 2020 because of the lockdown. I spent two years writing because I had no access to a studio. It is this return to writing that has made to seek the support of the Guggenheim foundation as I look for a way to unite the artistic and the literary media that I have worked in and to reconcile the feminine with the masculine, the ancient with the modern, the natural with the cultural, in an effort to create new balance that will sustain us in the current and upcoming cultural crises.
This is a shot from a performance I did in an exhibit of my tapestries where I invited the public to meet me after viewing the works and tell me their memories of themselves or someone else they met in their life who embroidered. I collected multicultural, multi-socioeconomic anecdotes that resonated emotionally and buttressed us all, tellers and listeners, embroiderers and archivists. The storytellers spoke while I stitched and hopefully I became another memory and one more embroidery story for their memory weave.
This is a prescient art piece in which I imagined the Capitol building being taken over by naked women warriors or rebels in a visual meant to either terrify or amuse the audience, depending on the viewer’s sociopolitical point of view. The nude insurgents are culturally objectified by the male gaze (which is the only gaze available to us) and therefore rendered less threatening to us by their own bodily objectification. This phenomenon is a cultural obstacle that I come upon a lot in my work as a writer and an artist: the overwhelming collective disrespect for the fecund female form — coupled with desire or disgust. It’s an epistemological dilemma that I think about in depth while I stitch it out.
This is one of dozens of hand stitched collages on paper I made resembling anonymous ransom notes sent by kidnappers asking for a monetary sum in trade for a female abductee. The victimization and objectification of the young fertile female is a learned cultural assumption so widespread that it is a wholesome cultural instinct. It is accompanied by the female herself often objectifying herself after puberty and monetizing her own sexualized body and hoping to be rescued or saved by a male protector to whom she will have to trade in her freedom and liberty in a time honored transactional exchange.
This is another iconic representation of the globalization of East meets West in art and digital co-culture. This vintage sari is a traditional bridal garment that accompanies the virgin daughter on the ceremony that separates her from her family and transports her to the house and the legal control of her patriarchally chosen husband and her in laws. The cut-outs that I stitched on it are based on photographs I took of strippers in Texas and the dollar signs represent the currency that makes America the global superpower as the reserves capital of the world. The virgin bride was the oldest, earliest form of currency and trade in agrarian patriarchy at the dawn of what we know as history and as civilization. And she still is in most of the world.
I did a series of embroideries on linen on canvas on metal and on paper under this title. It is the quote spoken by Oedipus in Oedipus Rex. I consider it as the apogee of my ancestors’ ritual dramatization of human familial and cultural experiences. The dramatization has been repeated in private and public stages ever since generation after generation in West and East, South and North. The feeling of estrangement from one’s given cultural identity is a powerful one that I think speaks for every woman in patriarchy and possibly for every human in contemporary culture which is a devolving post-patriarchy. The three identities represent the triad of virgin-mother-crone or infernal-terrestrial-celestial or mother-father-child and so on. In this case they are also conceived as my self portrait.
This is another example of a self-portrait in a tripartite cultural identity, all of which is estranged from my authentic sense of self, which is non-binary, multiplicitous, and ever-changing. The title again refers to the line uttered by Oedipus before he blinds himself in cultural shame, guilt, and resignation. The title refers to the culturally enforced split that is what we each know as our personal identity. The series was based on live drawings I made in Miami Beach whose characters I used to reportray and reinterpret and remodernize the characters in the Oedipus trilogy. The illustrative line is not stitched but it is nevertheless textured by layers of coal.