Safety Pin Necklace, Absurdist Theatre, and Art as Action

Gabrielle's NecklaceSafety pins don’t poke you, so they are safe, but they are also a powerful symbol because they hold things together when they are broken.

As a costume designer I use them ALL THE TIME!

This necklace is for a costume in a play.  It is worn by the character, Gabrielle, who is selectively blind and deaf.  Her sewing machine speaks to her.  She acts as the allegory for Equality in a French Absurdist play, called the Madwoman of Chaillot.  It was written by Girandoux and it was first performed in 1945.  At Greenhills this term the students are doing this play with a new translation which has replaced obscure French political figures from the 30’s and 40’s with modern references, including a few to Trump, Goldman Sachs, and others.

We are doing the play at Greenhills School, a smaller bubble within the privileged bubble of Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Working on this play during our current election cycle has opened conversations about politics, privilege, and lots of other things.

My designs are inspired by pioneering women artists, Sonia Delaunay, and Elsa Schiaparelli.  They are surreal and abstract and play into some of the overt symbolism that gets packed into French Absurdist theatre.

I will write about them in a separate post, but let me describe for you Gabrielle’s costume: She wears a hat that has hands that cover her ear or eye, whichever is currently selectively deaf or blind.  Her outfit has hands holding her back at the waist to keep her from acting.

She is the personification of the saying: See no evil. Hear no evil. Speak no evil.  Inaction as the equalizer before evil.

As an artist-teacher, costume designer and privileged white person, in some ways the selectively blind and deaf madwoman whose sewing machine speaks to her couldn’t be a better archetype for me to favor.

I cannot see or feel or hear the oppression that happens to many members of my community, despite my best efforts to do so.  My perspective is as limited as that of Gabrielle.

However, nobody is holding me back from acting.  I live my life by reaching out to my whole community.

In addition to my job with students of privilege, I am also the Program Director at FLY Children’s Art Center in Ypsilanti.  We take art programs to the kids in the schools and have community events, free and affordable classes in our studio in the Riverside Arts Center.

I do not go out and protest* with Black Lives Matter.  It addresses a specific problem, and while I’m proud to be a white ally as often as I am “woke” enough to do so, I am not a valuable warrior as a protest organizer.

I am more valuable as a teacher and connector between communities, and that is how I see the safety pins.  A way to open conversations.

I plan on making myself one of these safety pin necklaces so that I can hand safety pins to other blind and deaf people who want to be able to connect to members of their community and be stronger together by starting conversations with each other.

Who says the safety pin thing is just for white liberal people to feel good about themselves?  Why should it be just an instrument of privilege?

Let’s make safety pins into something that can be worn by anyone.  We can all stand together and wear them.  I know I probably sound as blind and deaf as the character Gabrielle now, but I think there are powerful ways to grow stronger together and overcome implicit biases and eventually overcome systemic racism.

Right now we are falling into the trap where we are looking at each other like we are the 2-D allegorical characters whom I’ve built costumes for this last several weeks.  As Chimananda Ngozi Adichie says in her TED talk about how we see Africa, we Americans are not single stories, and we are not two dimensional or metaphoric.

We are live human beings who are striving to help each other.

I encourage everyone to put on a safety pin and talk to each other.  If you see me, ask for one, or maybe I’ll stop and give you one!

By listening to each others’ stories and getting to know each other, maybe we will be less blind and deaf to one another.

Right now, by hearing, seeing, and speaking no evil, we are allowing evil to happen.

Even in our Ann Arbor bubble, yesterday a woman was threatened and forced to remove her hijab near the U-M Campus.  If any one of us had been there to hear it and see it and do something, maybe she could have been spared that assault.

[Edit: I read something yesterday evening after I wrote this that resonated.  A 40 year old white man posted on Facebook in one of the “secret groups” that Hillary referenced in her speech about why he wants to wear a safety pin.  He said something like, “It’s not because the marginalized or frightened people need to know.  It is because the other white people need to know how many of us there are.”

If we wear them and talk about what it means and be rational about why we are upset, maybe it is a good reminder to be an ally in spaces where marginalized people are invisible because they are inhabited by people who are all white.  The more proverbial version of “Locker Room Talk” is one way of putting it.

I have had white people who say some really mean and ignorant things in front of me be surprised when I call them on it in the past!  I’m already a stand-out without the pin, so it is a bit shocking that people ever say ignorant stuff in front of me, but sometimes they do.

This idea is most useful if BOTH Liberals and Conservatives who do not support the angry rhetoric of the campaign put on the safety pins and agree to stand up when they hear ignorance.]

As long as you plan on being safe with each other, whether you are, Liberal or Conservative; Black, White, Asian, Arab, Native American, Non-White Latino; LGBTQA; Rich, Poor, or Anyone Else who isn’t mentioned in this list!

Putting on a safety pin is not enough, but it is threading the sewing machine so we can hear it speak as Gabrielle does.

 

*[edit 11/14, addendum about protest] I do not protest much anymore.  I believe that Black Lives Matter, that Black Youth Matter, that Black Art Matters.  Implicit Bias, however, is hard to fight with protest.  It has to be un-learned.  I should know:  I also suffer from a variety of implicit biases about race, gender, and other human differences upon which I endeavor not to act, but I am imperfect, sometimes deaf and blind to my own biases.  As I have grown older I find more continuous engagement in the communities where I live to be more effective than street protest.  However, I have participated in a few protests in the last several years, including one for BLM in Detroit on Noel Night a few years ago, and given time and money to other kinds of community happenings that hopefully have helped raise awareness.  The ineffectiveness of the Iraq War street protests left me very disillusioned with that form of political discourse.  Many friends of mine were arrested during that time, and nobody listened to us, so I began to find other ways of connecting and countering ignorance by listening to people, trying to form lasting community connections, and becoming an artist-teacher instead of trying to be a gallery or commercial artist.

The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black

Here is an article about Kate Cullen, the 21 year-old sociology student who was studying in Istanbul during the early days of the Gezi Park Protests and the woman in the photograph that inspired this Stained-glass collage.

She describes her desire to participate saying, “My main purpose was just to add one more person to the movement.”

In another  question about the moment she was hit with the cannon, she says that she wanted to show the protests were non-violent and threw her arms wide.  She goes on to say, “The image is not about me whatsoever.  The image is about a symbol, about what these protesters were standing for; in the scheme of things, my act was absolutely nothing. It was no braver than thousands and thousands and thousands of protesters who were doing the same, and more,” and then describes the larger losses of injuries, eyesight, and even death.

Though I would argue, her act was a drop, a big drop, I know what she means about it feeling like nothing.

Often the acts of beauty and love that we do feel quotidian and insignificant, but each choice we make can create or destroy.  Each act we perform can sustain or cut off.

Her act, though a tiny drop, is in fact a very big thing.  Each protester who sits in the park is part of the larger scheme even if we don’t see them.  Each protester is a big thing because all together, each person added to the movement is valuable.

The worth of protest is not in suffering, but rather in compassion.  As Cullen points out , “The girl in the black dress is no more me than it is that man who pulled me into the house and gave me lemons….”  By participating in this body politic, each one joins together and each act builds together because it is formed in the invisible compassion of the man with the lemons, and by visible empathy drawn to the image of the Nike of Samothrace personified in the Woman in the Black Dress.

Like I said, she could be you, she could be me.  She is all of us. Though we are far away, raising awareness about struggles world wide (and in our own backyard) is important.  Sure we can’t be a voice for every movement in need of our compassion, but we are all interdependent, and the positive work that we do for each other still betters our civilization.

Peace for Gezi Park

Kissing in Taksim Square

Last Sunday afternoon, after the Eco Ride, I participated in a local event to support and share more information about what’s going on in Turkey since 31 May, 2013. The above is one of two stained-glass-collages (and accompanying stencils) that I made to highlight some of the iconic photographs that came out of the protests. If you are in the area, you can like the organization page on Facebook.  If you aren’t local, it is still an interesting page as they review both Turkish and international press and provide some translations and summaries of articles you wouldn’t otherwise see.

At first I did not want to directly illustrate any of the violent responses because by showing violent reactions in a beautiful way, it in some way romanticizes that violence. The first drawing that I did was of a couple kissing next to some burning rubble. The love of individuals becoming apparent even in the context of the flames of conflict. Taking artistic liberty, I turned the flames into the leaves of the trees that must now be re-planted in Gezi Park.

Kissing in Taksim Square
Seeing choreographed blood and explosions in movies can be exciting, though real blood and real destruction, even from animals killed by the side of the road is disturbing. Part of the reason that works of film are exciting is because they are not real. Things don’t happen that way, and we know it. Many of the photos of the violence that has been going on in Taksim Square have been graphic and disempowering. Turning them into stained glass would not show solidarity, it would romanticize the ugliest parts of the goings-on.

What changed my mind was this photograph.

We cannot see the face of the woman in the original. She could be you, she could be me. She stands, ready to face the impending impact with arms wide as if she is going to hug the water. Powerful like the Nike of Samothrace.  Nike, for those who haven’t studied as much art history refers to a personification of Athena as goddess of victory in battle. Unlike some other images, that I won’t post, it does not show the moment when she falls, but rather the moment when her peace faces down the violent onslaught of water.

Nike of Samothrace (Louvre Official Catalog)

In my version of the image, I made the area surrounding the woman lighter and more green than the rest, hoping to show that out of this moment perhaps new green space and a hard look at the political problems that Turkey faces will grow up. Perhaps this small act of resistance will be a first step into the victory of non-violent protest, spurring political action against corruption.

For the protestors in Turkey

Goings On About Town

Big things are in the works. Baby steps!!!

Though my drawing a day project has once again fizzled, I have in fact been making art nearly every day.  When I started the project, my intention was to do all kinds of work, showing progress, drawings, sketches, and finished work as it went on.

But as the project went on, my parameters got more and more narrow.  First, somehow, I decided it had to be a drawing. Then I decided it had to be a drawing on a particular size of paper.  But as an artist, I’m all over the place.  I do several bodies of work in several media all the time.  All those limitations are not how I work, but somehow I talked myself slowly into that consistency and regularity.

Some of the work that I do as an artist is less photographic.  Like the above shot, a photogenic rearrangement of something much less exciting to look at: making the “paints” for my “paintbox.”  Each sheet has to be torn and in order to use them more efficiently be rolled into a ball so when it comes to making the carpet, no detangling is needed.

In any case, I wanted to outline for you some of what I’ve been working on, though each of these things will get more attention as time goes on this summer, perhaps you would like to know the whole list of “what’s up” in Adventurous Art land.

Recycle Ann Arbor had an Earth Day Art Contest, and my “Sun Rug” was selected to be a finalist.  Though the turnout was small, I stuck around for the Public Reception and made some good connections to people in the community.

My small success in that contest persuaded me to shoot higher and I’ve been working on a proposal for a larger series of rag carpets to be displayed in narrative series from Cloud, to Rain, to Rainbow, to Sun.  The first proposal contains some mistakes and omissions, so we will see.  In either case, I’m excited about the project and you will see some progress shots soon.

One person I met through the program was the Outreach and Zero-Waste coordinator for RAA with whom I’m coordinating the translation of some of their materials about how to recycle in Ann Arbor into Spanish.  It’s cool to get to do some translation work, if only as a volunteer.

She also introduced me to someone at the Ecology Center, and I’m volunteering with them to do an interactive recycled art table at the Eco-Ride on June 23 at Riverside Park in Ann Arbor.  Yes, Ann Arbor, not Ypsi.  I’m going to do a whole entry about this since I made them a video and I think you’ll enjoy our project, even if you can’t attend the Eco-Ride.

Another of the people I met through the Recycle Ann Arbor Earth Day Contest was the director of FLY Art Center, an Ypsi organization that does outreach to under-served public school children.  We met up and I’m going to teach some “Studio Skills” classes (one about no-sew upcycled t-shirts, and one about rag rug coasters or placemats), and do some volunteering for them in their outreach and public programs.

 

 

101:365 Sunbather, AKA back-tracking

101:365 Sunbather, aka Backtracking

Everyone stumbles sometimes. The last few days, my routine has changed, and with it, my drawings have fallen behind. That isn’t to say that I won’t catch up… Tomorrow I plan on doing a triptych or well a series of 3 drawings.

This is based on an afternoon of warm sunbathing with Gracie. The shadows were so pretty with the orange cat and the amaryllis and easter lily shadows.

Events of significance: A new table, a new employment, and a new garment rack for my clothes. My little basement studio is looking homey.

EXCEPT, I entered my rag-rug in a contest, so the floor feels bare. If you are in the Ann Arbor area, go vote for my rug at Recycle Ann Arbor on Earthday, or thereabouts (Public voting is between 4/22-5/9). Wish me luck!