Women Under Duress

Two months ago, Sebha Sarwar of Voices Without Boundaries, invited me to participate in 'Women Under Seige', a 'living room art production' that converted a residential home into a multidisciplinary art space. For a single evening. I said yes because the project was interesting and I thought I might get some new work done.
It didn't work out quite that way. I didn't complete the fabric wall hanging I'd first envisioned. I turned to another concept for a small and quite simple installation. I wanted to juxtapose a collaged shadowbox I made in the late 1980s and never exhibited (The piece was turned down for Lawndale's annual 'Big Show' back when Lawndale was actually on Lawndale in the East End.) with one of the red mannequins I use for crochet trunk shows. I own a length of damaged red velvet that seemed perfect for draping. Wondered for weeks how to create a 'head' for this figure. I ought some old dolls at Value Village and doll parts at Hobby Lobby. Wanted to use text with stats and stories about women.
Then after pulling the piece together in my head, I spent a full ten days before the event in Seattle sorting and inventorying belongings in Mom and Dad's house with my sister Kate, all in preparation for sale in early summer.
Flew back to Houston last Wednesday evening, expecting two full days and evenings to work on my installation and thinking I was cutting it pretty close. Don't usually do that.
Well, I actually had one day and I spent much of it tending to other business. Didn't get serious until late afternoon and then worked steadily until 3:30 a.m. Everything takes much longer than I ever think it will. Even after laying it out in my mind. Actually it went smoothly. It just takes time. ES came out to the studio at 2:30 a.m. and asked what in heaven I was doing. He made some sort of joke that I cannot remember. I said I was in no joking mood and he went back to bed. I carried on gluing bits of text to painted labels. Stuck them all under heavy books to dry flat. I had to have the whole piece, including the head, under control before dawn and it was.
That second day I'd planned on? That was Friday and we left for Galveston at 1:00 p.m. for Chryssa's graduation from UTMB. (There will be more written about that occasion very soon.) I napped all the way to Galveston and then carried on until late that night.
Missed participating in setting up the house with Sebha and the other artists, Autumn Knight, Abijan Johnson and Megan Jackson. They spent Friday evening installing tent like fabrics in two rooms in the house, video monitors and sound systems.
But on Saturday morning I was there, installing my piece in a corner of the living room. All the text labels were tied on twine strung in X's in front of the mannequin and shadowbox. Lots for viewers to read and ponder.  Baby dolls at her feet. More dolls in a papoose beneath her heart and above her rose vagina. I made her head with a round screen cover for a food platter. Filled it with a handful of Christmas ornaments, strips of velvet and a grass luau skirt I found at the Dollar Store and painted. Had to sew it all tightly to the back of the neck so it would stay semi-upright. Pretty tippy, but it worked. 
I called the installation 'Duress.' Because I think most women are living under real duress these days. Women's rights are being chipped away in Congress and state legislatures and not all of us are out there yet fighting against this tide.

So good to see a crowd throughout this evening of dances, conversations, video and story telling about women. Wish I had photos of the dancers performing, but they will appear on the Voices Breaking Boundaries website. Evening included that of six Pakistan-based artists who contributed with video. Voices Breaking Boundaries will have photos and video of Women under Siege on their website soon. Terrific publicity for the event with an editorial in the Houston Chronicle and an article on-line at Culture Map.
This brings me to Sehba Sarwar's skills and talents. They are multitudinous. She is a co-founder of Voices Breaking Boundaries and has created a decade of events and programming on social justice. For Women Under Siege, she attracted sponsors that included Planned Parenthood, KPFT Pacifica Radio,  University of Houston's Women's, Gender & Sexuality Studies Program and GEO TV in Pakistan. She is good at attracting media coverage.  She can oversee and produce event after event, which draw attention to the mission of her non-profit: crossing cultural borders, sustaining dialogue and inciting social justice through art. Thank you, Sehba.

Thanks to friends who emailed me stories for inclusion in the piece. Here's what they had to say:

“Abortion is holy when compared with the crimes against children that often result from unwanted pregnancies. That’s what I think.”
Suzanne Kerr

"My father told me, in hundreds of different ways and repeatedly as I was growing up and into my 40s that because I was a woman, I couldn't go into fields of work that interested me.
He told me I was "too much" for a man, so if I wanted a relationship with a man, it would have to be a weak man. How mixed up is all that?
Unfortunately I loved and admired him, so you can imagine how hard I've worked to try to figure all this out for 72 years, with only limited success in either work or love, I should add."
Virginia Carmichael

"A woman I met at a dinner party in 1970 raved about
the fact that she had "missed" the women's revolution
because she had already graduated from college. At the
time I thought that even someone as old as I [35 in 1970]
was benefiting from the ‘new ideas and revelations’. 
But vigilance and education are needed again.  It is a
good thing there are those of us who remember the
danger of the old solutions before Roe v. Wade.  
We need to educate young women - and gently.  
Save the rough stuff for men who should simply shut up!"
          Elita Agee

“After successful business accomplishments I have been
labeled by my male "peers" as Prima Donna, Queen Bee
nd PB (pushy broad!)”
         Leslie McManis

"In 1964, I was a junior at the University of Colorado when I loaned my car to a sorority sister who drove up to Wyoming to get a safe abortion from a reputable physician.
Almost 50 years later, I am the proud grandmother of three beautiful teenage granddaughters. 
My fervent hope is that they will never to have to sneak away to some undisclosed location in order to get an otherwise safe medical procedure.  My worst fear is that they will!"
         Ann Hamilton

And finally, here are a few of the stats on women that I used in Duress:

In South Africa, a woman is killed every six hours by someone she knows; in Guatemala, two women are murdered, on average, each day.

In São Paulo, Brazil, a woman is assaulted every 15 seconds.

data dated January 14, 2010

An estimated 215 million women worldwide lack access to modern contraception.

Sex-selective abortion (also known as gendercide) has erased the possibility of

life for over 163 million women worldwide.

           Commentary Daily

Forty percent of the 186 million pregnancies in developing countries are unintended.
That is 75 million unwanted pregnancies.
            data dated September 2011

One in five women will be raped in their lifetime.
One in six women will be victims of stalking in their lifetime.
FOXNEWS, April 26, 2012
Just so you know, 26 states enacted one or more anti-choice measures in 2011.

Here are quotes from writers I love:

"Caminante, no hay puentes, se hace puentes al andar."
(Voyager, there are no bridges, one builds them as one walks.)

“Your silence will not protect you.”

 "Revolution is not a one time event."

            Audre Lorde

 All of which leads to this statement, don't you think?

“The women's movement is taking a different form right now, and it is because it has been so effective and so successful that there's a huge counter movement to try to stop it, to try to divide women from one another, to try to almost foment divisiveness.”

That about sums it up.  This is what the evening was about. Thanks to Voices Without Boundaries for making that clear.