photo: Joe Mette
Bad Girls -- Midwest was the brainchild of Charmayne Harper, a ceramist from Omaha Nebraska. She arranged the entire show of invited regional artists, both men and women, at the Hillmer Gallery of the College of St. Mary's in Omaha. It was to be a movement of solidarity with the two shows that had appeared on both coasts: Bad Girls -- East in New York City and Bad Girls -- West in Los Angeles. Of the three Bad Girls shows, ours was the only one that was censored and the only one that was not covered nationally by the media.
I had several pieces in the show. One set was a series of retablos inspired by Frida Kahlo's works that came out of my therapeutic drawings. They depicted several of my traumatic childhood experiences. I was hesitant to show them at St. Mary's because I thought they might be too controversial for that particular venue. I was assured by both Ms Harper and the gallery director that there would be no problem with them.
Two hours before the reception we were notified that some of my work and the work of two other artists had been removed from the show by the college representatives over the gallery director's objections.
We protested again. This time, the University of Nebraska at Omaha donated time from their busy schedule to display the "offending" pieces for a week at their newly opened fine arts gallery.
The University went a step further and held a public forum on the issue of censorship in the arts. Curiously, I was not only not invited to speak on the subject but I was told about the event after it happened assuring that my presence would not be there.
a private Lutheran school in Blair Nebraska, also took interest in the show.
Bad Girls -- Midwest was invited to show "the entire show"
at their campus. At their reception, students talked with the
artists directly about their work and it was a very successful art event.
This is my pictorial rendition of the experience of being thrown from
my buggy at the hands of my sister. Her hands are the severed hands
of our grandfather, ZT, for it is his actions in the past that caused
this scene as surely as if he had tipped the buggy over himself. The
blood from the violence of the deed drips down to feed the roots of the family
tree growing out of the skeleton of the past. The electrical charge
of the violent act splits my mother from my father in my eyes as much as the
aqua is split from the blue violet, or night from day.
The buggy has become a monster that is almost devouring me as I fall, from the flower of my infancy and the womb of my mother, frozen in ice and spirit. I land on a leaf from the sacred cottonwood, whose own veins run red with spilled blood on the prairie. It is my deep ties with nature and the prairie that helped save me as both a child and adult. My spirit, the red and black feather, and myself are saved from the disaster by the lifeline of my real that is held by my toy monkey who connects my real to art. In this case the red and black are both my High School colors and the sacred colors of the red road-black road. Part of my release from the juggernaut of my family and my home town was escaping when we moved to a larger town into a more normal school system where my creativity was allowed to flower in music, theatre and art.
The creative muse is in
the form of a butterfly with a body of real in the form of a spirit woman.
It floats over a book of learning. The skeleton holds an empty palette
in its hand. The creative arts are there in my family and my school
but beyond the scope of this experience. The outside world shows a
sun in a sky of green and a blood moon in a sky of purple. Reality
is distorted by an act of violence and the heavenly bodies shut their eyes
in denial of the truth. The skies are clouded with a veil of distortion.
My spirit flies free in the form of the bird. But through the center
of the drawing runs the river, plowed fields on one side, open prairie bluffs
on the other. It becomes the baseboard of my world, for indeed, my
world of unreality began and died down by the riverside.
My spirit is alive inside of the fantasy world of my real which I share
with Monkey along with his bananas. The creative muse is there with
me as well. We are down by the river in the natural world by the forked
tree representing the dual nature of humans. The sun-moon figure also
represents this dual nature as does the yin yang on my head. It is
a dream world surrounded by the aqua cloud edge of my mother, bordered in
But I am not safe even in this world of my own creation. I am frozen and my spirit lies both at my feet and escaping in bird form. My dress is colored predominately the aqua that is my mother and the past binds me at neck, arms, hips and feet. My heart breaks as I am being tied securely to the world outside my real both at home and within the community.The world outside my dreams is as sterile as the wooden floors and institutional yellow walls. The family skeleton looks almost spent as the dry roots of the tree sap its strength to flower in my spirit only to die at the tips when it touches the reality of my family and my natal town.Control is the name of the game called education. It is symbolized by three metal discs of copper, silver and gold an artificial value that preaches see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. That is denial. My mother splashes a universal symbol of shame on my girlhood while my female sexuality in the shape of a pomegranate inside a womb is safely bottled inside a canning jar labeled "ball", aqua blue in an attempt at masculine guise but really imprisoned by my mother. I am linked to these things by a long pink ribbon whose source is the penis-capped flagpole.
My community, wrapped in the flag, teaches negative lessons only from the slate and the Bible. "Thou Shalt Not." The ruler is both the measure of a person and an instrument of punishment topped by Eve's apple. The apple is being threatened by a snake ribbon as a parallel extension of a real prairie rattlesnake that winds itself around the cross. It is a reverse one headed version of the medical profession. The creative arts are controlled by a lively skull with my mother's eyes. The primary paints are almost footprints but the two brushes, my sisters, drip only red paint from a distance, an echo of the shame directed at me from the other side.
Like many girls
in our culture, I discovered my womanhood by accident. With no sex
education what-so-ever, I thought I was bleeding to death. The shame
and horror I felt had such depth that it is undescribable to those who have
never experienced it. I was eleven years old.
The skeletal hands of family secrets painted this experience for me as surely as the spirit of my mother depicted by a personalized toilet, was staring at my experience in hostile judgement. The walls had eyes. Even the tolet paper holder stared at my body's unbelievable behavior.
The sweetheart soap sat mockingly in the soap dish. This is what lack of sex education does to children. The previous drawing is what it does to their souls. This was fundamental Christian self righteousness on a day to day basis.
Make no mistake,
the female experience in this society is far more basic than race, religion
or culture. In this Retablo, blonde blue-eyed Eve is being forcibly
superimposed on a female body that represents all races, black, white, yellow
and red. It is the real devil of the Christian church staked out on
a giant penis that railroads all women into preconceived notions of what
womanhood is, should be and how it is to be practiced. The cross coming
out of the penis holds the broken and bleeding pinioned body at bay.
Called love, the fallopian tube heart encompasses the rape of every woman
that is routinely practiced to subdue her into slavery. It is psychic
The muse of creativity lies broken and bleeding on the head of the penis which is embroidered like a pillowcase in lazy daisy stitches and French knots. An arrow or fish hook points to the railroad track.
Two forked trees are dead in the background as humanity dies when violence is perpetrated on yet another victim. The Venus fly trap grows out of an onion-like plant between the pieces of a scallop shell symbolically used to birth Venus out of the sea. Another myth of the veracity of the father of our country is alluded to as the cherries of our not so virgin country are punctured, bleeding a trinity of blood drops not only from the cherries but from all the gristly remains pictured.
My severed head stares frozen out from the grasp of the skeletal hands of the past. "God is Love", the streamer on a stealth bomber proclaims as the silver moon weeps between the lightening flashes in the purple skies. The severed hands, both black and white, hold up the presentable mask for the apple Eve to wear, as the rattlesnake of all sexuality, pink, blue and lavender, prepares to strike the apple. The mask is white, of course, with the Marilyn Monroe beauty mark in place, for all feminine beauty must be flawed, it is after all female, a second class state of existance.
When the freedom of sexuality is forbidden by government law and church decree, the reality is a spiritual carnage from which no one escapes. This is the education we offer our youthful women when we deny their sexuality as teenagers.
ignorance and lack of love -- and you get teenage pregnancies.
It is interesting to note that while it takes two to make a baby, only one is guilty when the baby becomes a reality. In this game [the ground is opening in a giant tic-tac-toe] I am bound to a giant penis as the fundamental Christian skeleton of our family sets fire to the bonfire under me. The umbilical cord and the arms of the fetus forms the initials of the biological father. A vagina forms between my back and the penis pointed to directly by the male hand, my father, at the bottom.
The female hands are my sisters and my mother or my mother and her sisters. All hands accuse. A wedding ring dangles out of reach above my head which has been shorn by the skeleton to show my shame and humiliation as publicly as possible. The locks of hair form sperm or snake-like ringlets covering the scene and spelling out the word SEX. The forked tree of life is shorn into a dead stump while my soul flees in the form of a bird leaving only a shell shocked form to endure yet another violation of self. The only sorrow is in the form of a drop of mother's milk from a breast. The flowering of a new generation is the sunflower growing from my belly button.
This is the welcoming of a new life. It equals the celebration of my womanhood.
Christian charity has to be experienced to be believed. In a home
for unwed mothers, I am reduced to knitting for my creativity. We
are given the joy of working for our keep and to keep busy. "Idle
hands are the devil's tools." I didn't mind vacuuming and dusting every
day. I did resent bitterly being asked to move an upright piano in
order to wax the floors a week before I gave birth.
My fellow inmates were a curious collection of damaged girl-women. They ranged from one extreme to the other including those so young they didn't comprehend what had happened, those who were trying to take charge of their lives against overwhelming odds, those who were so mentally disturbed they literally chewed upon themselves and those who would shinny down the fire escapes in order to meet new boyfriends because "they couldn't get any more pregnant."
Over-all was the staff of professionals that ranged from social workers playing mental games with the inmates in order to force adoptions, over-worked nurses who saw the humanity of the girl-mothers-to-be, and the egotistical doctor in charge who openly disapproved of any woman who got herself into this condition.
It was a tapestry of unreality woven by the skeletal hands of the past working overtime. Smothering all was the constant reminder that it was good Christian monies that were working to save you from your own sins. The vast majority of the women in the home were white. It seems that non-whites don't reject their daughters as readily as the dominate culture does.
And so the new generation is born. Along with the breast milk of
nourishment comes the other heritage as well. The creative development
is in the hands of the silent past as the bony fingers offer the violation
of the past to the newborn in the guise of a toy whose ribbon snake is already
at work to strangle the soul of the baby.
My real was passed on to a new form of Monkey and in doing so, I twisted the mind of my child because I could not see the real child in my arms. Just like my mother before me, I am in a prison from the past whose wallpapered bars are very real. Unknowingly, I can only love the way I have been taught, psychically incestually. By the time I learn what I am doing, it will be too late for either of my children to escape.
Not only is the cycle doomed to be repeated, but also the old adage comes home with a vengeance:
Those who cannot remember
-- George Santayana