Even Clothes Tell Stories

My journey with the 99 Art Project continues:

White Clothes on a Chair

This is my shirt.  It may seem like just a pile of white clothing but it is really a shirt waiting to be made. I rarely buy clothes  preferring, instead, to remake those I already have or those discarded by my friends. There are various reason why I do this.  To begin with, I grew up during a time when it was not  uncommon for women to make clothes for themselves and their family.  My mom, for example, made many of my dresses when I was a child.  She even made the wedding dress for my Aunt Ruby as well as the bridesmaid’s dress and my flower girl dress, a dress that made me feel like a little princess.

she’d made dresses for the wedding

There is also the ecological and ethics factor.  The fashion industry not only consumes an incredible amount of natural resources, it is also one of the major producers of toxic waste. The industry is also guilty of creating immoral sweatshop conditions for many of their workers. Just think of the 1,100 garment workers crushed to death when the factory in Bangladesh were they worked collapsed on them.

the building was falling on them

But  there is also a more romantic and magical reason. Our clothing absorbs the vibrations we emit thus wearing others’ clothing is like wearing their energy as well.

Just as a song or a smell can evoke a personal memory, so can clothes. White polka dots on red always make me think of a dress my mother used to wear.

If clothes could talk, what would they say?

his shirt remembered her dress

And of course there is the pleasure reward  that positive transformation always gives us. Transforming old clothes, as opposed to using ex-novo materials, means working around what’s already there. But restyling takes patience and skills I don’t have so I use an Ockham’s Razor approach—the simplest way is the best.  The simplest way for me has been that of using the huipil as a model.  The huipil, traditional blouse in Central America, is basically a rectangular piece of cloth folded in half with a slit in the center for the neck and side seams that leave an opening for the arms. So for my huipiles, it’s just a matter of piecing together cut up clothes to make a rectangle.

her huipil made her the center of the universe

The  huipil, of Mayan origin, was not considered just a garment but also a representation of personal ideology. The Mayans believed that clothing could transform a person just as a person could transform clothing, the two existing in symbiosis.

Mayans gave their huipiles a cosmic significance. Having the head placed in the very centre of the fabric has specific implications. When a woman places a huipil over her head, she enters a symbolic universe. As she sticks her head through the hole, she emerges into the external world and her body becomes the axis of the universe. She is the centre of the world connecting the earth and the sky.

she united earth and sky

The women participating in the 99 Art Project are not geographically united.  They come from various cultures and various nationalities.  Nevertheless, they are united in their womanhood.

Even though this concept we call democracy was invented over 2,500 years ago, women worldwide have been given the right to vote only within the past 100 years (more or less depending upon the country they’re from).  This means that the societies created in these 2,400 years or more have been based totally and exclusively  upon male mentality and male domination.  This is a crime against nature.

she touched his brain and he touched hers

Just as the brain is divided into two for reasons of efficiency, two sexes were created. They were made not to compete but to complement one another.  Instead, we live in a masculinized society that promotes dominance as opposed to collaboration. To impair this collaboration not only goes against nature but against our future. Because  this lack of balance has created not only a society that limps, but a society that’s on the verge of self-destruction. We need a more maternal attitude towards the world we live in if we want to survive thus the theme I’ve chosen for my 99 Art Project is that of the Great Mother.

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Cynthia Korzekwa ©

The Great Mother

Our first home was our mother’s womb.  Our first meal came from our mother’s breasts.  It is only natural, then, that in ancient times mothers were worshipped and adored.  Mothers were our first deities and life itself was our first religion.

Manifestation of this veneration can be seen in the numerous votive statuettes found all over the world often referred to as Venus figures. Venus was the name Romans gave to the Great Goddess and from her name comes the term “veneration”.  The Temples of Venus were also schools where the priestesses, known as venerii, taught sexual techniques. Sex was sacred as it offered the promise of a new life.

The Mother Goddess was a personification of nature thus uniting the individual with the divine. That’s why she was worshipped. But monotheism and patriarchs flayed her separating the individual from the divine. And the sacredness of life was lost.

But it is time for women to reunite the sacred with the profane.

 

The title of my huipil for the 99 Art Project is “My Name Is Venus”. It is divided into 12 frames with each frame representing a specific goddess figurine from an ancient culture.

 

votive 1b.jpg

Venus of Willendorf

Without a doubt, the Venus of Willendorf is the most famous of prehistoric female figurines.  It was found in Willendorf, Austria in 1908 by the archeologist Joseph Szombathy and presently can be seen at the Natural History Museum of Vienna.

Faceless, thus a symbol not a person, she has plaited hair and originally was covered with red ochre.

The figurine is so small that she fits in the palm of a hand thus portable and maybe used as a talisman.

 

Poppy Goddessc

Poppy Goddess of Gazi (Knossos, c 1400 BC)

Poppies were grown in huge quantities on Crete and used in temples to provoke visionary experiences. Thus the seed pod of the poppy was often found in the hands of goddess figurines.

The poppy was the plant of happiness as its consumption helped ease one’s pain.  That’s why it is often associated with Demeter because, after Hades kidnapped her daughter, Persephone, and took her to the underworld, Demeter was so overwhelmed with despair that she ate poppies  in order to fall asleep and obliterate the pain.

The Poppy Goddess figures are generally represented with their arms uplifted as in an orant position.

 

Minoan Vessel Goddess

Minoan Vessel Goddess with Snake

Snakes were once a symbol of female power as it was believed, like women, they contained the secrets of life.  The snake’s poison represented power whereas the shedding of its skin represented regeneration.

The serpent as a Mother Goddess appeared during Neolithic times.  Eve, another Earth Goddess, is also associated with the snake.  Poor Eve.  She was punished simply because she sought awareness but awareness had its price.  For the state of unconscious unity induced humans to see themselves and all life as one.  Awareness, via the eating of the forbidden fruit offered by a snake, forced Eve and Adam to see themselves as individuals and no longer part of the whole.

This Boeotian votive with Frida eyebrows not only shows a woman with a snake, it is also a vessel.  The womb is a vessel as it contains the promise of a new life.

 

Cycladic Goddess

Cycladic Goddess

On the Aegean islands, little goddess figures were created as early as 6000 BC.  Generally their arms are folded under their breasts, a position typically used when burying the dead.  In fact, many of these figures were found in graves as well as in shrines.

There is still much mystery regarding these figurines but the time and effort needed to sculpt them from marble implies that there were of significance and maybe seen as religious idols related to fertility rites.

 

Ephiphany Gesture Goddess

Epiphany Gesture Goddess

This goddess is a Neolithic Egyptian figure with raised arms dating c 4000-35000 BC. She has a beak, relating her to a Bird Goddess, and raised arms.  The raised arms could be symbolic of bird wings ready to take flight.

This pose is known as the Gesture of Epiphany and, in Egypt, the uplifted arms in hieroglyphics represents Ka, vital essence that distinguishes the living from the dead.

 

Sleeping Goddess of Malta

Sleeping Goddess of Malta

Around 5000 BC, Sicilians began arriving on Malta bringing their beliefs with them.  For about 1000 years they built temples made from giant blocks of stone that often included rooms painted red.

A tiny figurine of a sleeping goddess was found at the Hypogeum at Hal Saflien.  She is dreaming the world into being.

Dreams were important because they often offered answers one failed to see when awake. Thus the incubation, the practice of sleeping in a sacred area in hopes of having a revealing dream.

 

Astarte

Astarte Goddess

This figurine from Mesopotamia (terra cotta, c 24th cen BC) possibly represents the goddess Astarte.  She is holding her breasts as if offering them.

The first part of one’s life cycle was called “child at the breast” as the child was dependent upon his mother’s  breast.

These figurines remind me of the “Caritas Romana“ (“Roman Charity”) paintings depicting the story of Pero, a woman who secretly breastfeeds her father while he is in jail sentenced to death via starvation. A guard discovers her and reports her to officials who are so humbled by such an act of selfishness that they release her father.

 

Tell Brak Eye Idol

Eye Goddess

Agatha Christies’s husband, archeologist Max Mallowan, invented the term “eye idols” after discovering a number of figurines with huge eyes while excavating at Tell Brak in northeast Syria (1937-1938). In ancient times, Tell Brak was an international city and home for several civilization including the Sumerians and Babylonians until it was abandoned in c 2000 BC.

Julian Jaynes said that the mouthless eye idols indicate that their purpose was to hypnotically enhance hallucination when the living tried to communicate with the dead. Because, unlike today, eye contact was once fundamental for communication.  That’s why these idols didn’t need mouths as they spoke with their eyes.  Thus they are speaking statues. According to Jaynes consciousness began when the gods stopped  speaking.

Unfortunately, with all the bombs dropped on Syria, it is probable that many of these idol artifacts have been destroyed.

 

Phoenician Goddess

Phoenician Astarte Goddess

The Canaanite goddess of fertility was adopted by the Phoenicians who later transformed her into Aphrodite.

What makes this figurine interesting is that she is standing akimbo. The word “akimbo” comes from “the river’s bend” and is the posture of strength, of taking a stance, of imposing yourself.

 

Reptilian MOTHER AND cHILD

Reptilian  goddess.

The Anunnaki were deities found in the cultures of the Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians, and Babylonians.  Much speculation has been made about them.  There are those who believe the Anunnaki to be extraterrestrial beings who came from the Taurus constellation.

Related to the Anunnaki (maybe as allies) are the Reptilians from Tiamet, a plant with characteristic similar to the Earth.  Reptilians are capable of shape shifting as they were experts in genetic engineering.

Reptilians are humanoid reptiles in their original form and known to have a malevolent nature.

 

Boeotian Bell Goddess

Bell-shaped goddess

This archaic terra cotta figurine is from Boeotia (Northern Greece). Her bell shaped body depicts a chain of dancing worshippers with their arms up in the orant position. There are swastikas painted on her long Modglianian neck. The swastika is the symbol of the Earth fixed on one spot.

Dancing was once a spiritual experience so rituals included dance because its motion united both mind and body.

This goddess figure is now located at the Louvre, so very far from home.

 

Naqada Figurine

Naqada goddess

Naqada is a town on the west bank of the Nile. It gives its name to the archaeological culture of Chalcolithic Predynastic Egypt (c 4400-3000 BC).

This figurine comes from the Naqada grave # 271.  Her eyes are like breasts, her breasts are like eyes.

 

Sketches for “My Name is Venus” Huipil

 

 

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Cynthia Korzekwa ©

Sewing Bee Beyond Borders

For centuries women have used  stitching as a means of expressing themselves. For example, deciding what colors, what fabrics, and what patterns to use is in itself a form of self expression. Stitching also has been used subversively such as with the Underground Railroad Quilts used to help slaves escape or Madame Defarge, a character in Dicken’s Tale of Two Cities, who transmitted secret codes in her knitting.

99 Art Project

Sometimes stitching can be used as a form of protest as with Bordamos Feminicidios a group of Mexican women who use embroidered handkerchiefs to protest against female homicides. And many artists, including Louise Bourgeois, Maria Lai, and Tracy Emin, have used stitching not only as an art form but also as a means of externalizing some of the anguish within.

Louise Bourgeois Made Fabric Books

Sewing also provides a means of storytelling as seen in arpilleras, Hmong story cloth, molas, and embroidered huipiles.

¿Dónde estás?

But sewing can offer women something else—companionship. American quilting bees, for example, were social gatherings that permitted women to get together to work on quilts thus combining necessity with pleasure. The sewing circle concept eventually became démodé but made a revival several years ago when Stitch ‘n Bitch knitting groups started surfacing worldwide. Women rediscovered the pleasure of working with their hands while sharing stories with other women.

Everyone has a story to tell and, eager to create an anthology of such stories, Lavinia Lindsay and Cisca Mikx have teamed up to create a sewing bee beyond borders they’ve called 99 Art Project. Women from around the world have been invited to explore the possibilities of using needle and thread to share personal experiences.

White Shirts

The ladies participating begin with finding a white shirt that will act as home base for the journey their stitching will take them on.  Because hands make the world tangible. They help us interact with our surroundings. But they also provide a means of  interacting with our own being. Working with our hands helps prevent self-alienation.

making and thinking

And working with our hands collectively creates a bonding in the same way that stitching unites one material with another. As the women of  99 Art Project begin exploring themselves, they will share their discoveries  with other members of the group. Like a patchwork blanket, they will put their pieces together to make a whole.

they sewed together

I, too, will be participating as well and documenting my journey here on this blog. Because female Synergy and Solidarity will save the world!

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Cynthia Korzekwa  ©

Related: Storytelling Through Textiles + Craftivism: Activism Using Craft + IN PRAISE OF HANDS: Knit yourself well.

Claire McCardell and The American Look

One reason why the typical Mexican attire Frida so loved such as huipiles, rebozos, and ponchos continue to be used is because the designs are simple, practical and elegant.

Claire McCardell (1905-1958) was a designer who also took the Occam’s Razor approach to creating clothes in large part because of  the WWII imposed parsimony. Using limitation as a source of inspiration, Claire created designs meant to make the most out of a little. She used “alternative” fabrics such as denim and wool jersey and surplus government weather balloon cotton for her creations.  And the shortage of leather led to Claire’s making ballerina flats popular.

With the war, women had to assume a chores generally done by men as the men were busy being soldiers.   No longer objects but, instead, sheer animation, women needed clothing that was practical and easy to move in.  Claire may have been influenced, when studying in Paris, by Coco Channel’s desire to liberate women shackled by fashion.

Claire, often referred to as the High Priestess of the Understatement, said she designed things that she needed for herself but, it seemed, others needed, too.  She strove for simplicity and created mix ‘n match garments that could extend a wardrobe with the leitmotif of  functional and affordable.

 

Claire revolutionized American fashion via some of the following designs:

 

Monastic dress, a toga like gown with a belted waist (1938)

 

Diaper Bathing Suit (1942)

Claire McCardell's Diaper Bathingsuit

 

Popover Dress (1942) which was a wrap-around dress including an attached pot holder for those women who had guests for dinner and thus had to run back and forth from the kitchen.

Claire Mccardell, every hostess needs an oven mitt

 

A wrap dress was versatile in that it could be used as a house dress, party dress, dressing gown and even as a bathing suit cover up.

Claire McCardell, Popover Dress

For the Mayans, a huipil created a sacred enclosure for a woman’s body. And, when she entered her garment by pulling it over her head, the woman became the axis of her universe. Popover dresses also permit the woman to be the axis.

 

The Future Dress made from triangular pieces of fabric.

Claire McCardell, she cut a triangle and wore it

 

Shoulder Shrugs are easy to fold and easy to wear (1947)

Claire McCardell, shoulder shrug

 

Georgia O’Keefe owned a number of McCardell dresses.

claire 7 b

 

Claire collaborated with artists such as Picasso, Chagall, Milo, Leger using fabrics designed by them for her creations. For her  “Fish Dress”, she used Picasso’s ‘Fish Print’ fabric (1955).  Thus something designed by Picasso could be bought by the yard. The artist didn’t mind commercializing his art.  However, Picasso refused to have his designs used for upholstery fabric.  It was one thing to be worn but something totally unacceptable to have his art used for sofas thus be sat upon.

Claire McCardell and Picasso's Fish Print

 

Huipil dresses to make inspired by Claire include the halter top dress and the Grecian tunic dress.

Claire McCardell Style

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Bibliography:   McCardell, Claire. What Shall I Wear? . The Overlook Press.New York. 2012

 

Mexique

Last November, my daughter and I went to see the “Mexique” exhibition at the Gran Palais. Here is the long overdue publication of my related notes:

Pont Alexandre III  is the most ornate and grandiose bridge in Paris. Named after Tsar Alexander III, the bridge commemorates the alliance established between Russia and the Third Republic in 1892. And, with its view of the Eiffel Tower, it’s an often used location for wedding picture and tourists’ selfies.  Crossing the bridge is like taking a stroll in an en plein air museum as the bridge is full of sculptures—cherubs, lions, seashells, monsters and much more. Built for the city’s World Fair in 1900, the bridge links the Hôtel des Invalides  with the Petit and the Grand Palais.

Pont Alexandre III

The Gran Palais hosts a number of exhibitions every year such as “Mexique” dedicated to Mexican art from 1900-1050. Naturally, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were the main attractors but there were, aside from Orozco and Siqueiros,  many “minor” artists of interests such as José Guadalupe Posada, Julio Ruelas, Roberto Montenegro, Ángel Zárraga and Carlos Mérida.

Some of the women included in the exhibition:

Tina Modotti photographed Frida and mujeres indigentes

Lola Alvarez Bravo photographed Frida and Mexican culture

Maria Izquierdo painted self-portraits and Sueño y presentimien

Lola Cueto made puppets and papel picado embroidery

Olga Costa painted fruit and people

Nahui Olin was a model, painter, and poet

Rosa Rolanda was a neo-figurative painter

English-Mexican Leonora Carrington was a surrealist painter

Alice Rahon was fascinated by Frida

Bibliography: The Human Tradition in Mexico  byi Jeffrey M. Pilcher

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