This video, which incorporates first person testimony, interviews, and kindling gathered by local mothers, was inspired by the precarious condition of women in refugee camps who often fall victim to violence as they seek to meet the basic needs of their children. It accompanies my series Kindling. The artist statement for the series is below.
How different are the concerns of mothers the world over? How different are the needs of families—in cities, villages, refugee camps? Children need care. They must be tended to—fed, clothed, sheltered. These essential truths do not change no matter where you live, or what condition you find yourself in. These are the thoughts which occupied my mind as I took a group of local mothers to collect firewood in the town in which I live, and interviewed them to find out what the essential needs of their families are, and how these needs are met.
Traditionally home is the center of the family, the hearth is the heart of the home, a place where families come together for comfort and warmth. The kindling in these drawings echo this ancient ideal of comfort and security, just as the fragile and unsteady piles of wood echo the vulnerable position of women struggling to sustain their families in the most severe conditions imaginable. These drawings of kindling gathered by individual local mothers, and accompanied by their own quotes obtained in interviews, reveal how universal are the needs of families, just as it made clear how precarious and out of reach these most basic of needs are for hundreds of thousands of mothers, fathers, and their children, world wide.
For Darfuri women, driven from their homes in the Darfur region of Sudan, into refugee camps in eastern Chad, basic needs are as scarce, as they are plentiful for my own children. Since 2003, persecution has driven over two million people, the majority of them women and children, into crowded camps that are scattered in areas with scarce wood for fire. Venturing outside the camps in search of wood to cook their meals often ends in rape and other forms of violence. The search for firewood takes on new meaning, as essential for survival as the quest for fire, food, and shelter from the elements since time immemorial.
Below is revised version of the video of the Perfect Stone series. I’ve reposted the artist statement for the series below:
This visual essay and collection of stones was first inspired by an interview I read regarding the then recent conviction of a young mother who was accused of adultery, and sentenced to death by stoning. The subject of the interview was the public official who was put in charge of carrying out the execution. In reading the interview I was struck not only by the horror of the penalty—what does it mean that in the 21st century there are still women being stoned to death—but by the thoughtful way in which this official ruminated on the correct way to carry out the sentence: a pit would need to be dug, many volunteers would be needed to throw stones, and the right size stones would need to be decided on. This last item, though chilling, made me think—what is the perfect stone for killing a woman?
There are few outdoor places where stones are not plentiful, even in the town where I live, so I began looking for the perfect stone. What would it look like? What shape would it be? How large? Little things we take for granted take on new meaning when studied up close. Stones are natural and varied, they are often quite beautiful. They have no malice on their own. When drawing them they began to appear as fragile and helpless as the young girl whose recent death by stoning is described from an eye witness account below each image.
In the end of the interview, the public official drew his own conclusion of what the perfect stone would be as he held up his own closed hand “about the size of a man’s fist”.
The Women’s Caucus for Art has curated an online version of their show “The Stories We Tell.” I am pleased to have work from my series “The Perfect Stone” included in the exhibit. While I haven’t seen it, I believe I have a few other pieces included in the catalogue.
There is a lot of other great work, so definitely poke around.
Below is their description of the show:
The Women’s Caucus for Art announced a national call for STORIES WE TELL, portraying the tradition of visual storytelling through women’s voices. What stories do we tell ourselves, make up about ourselves, tell others, or share with our families, friends and the larger world? What needs to be heard? Whether activist or abstract, we are seeking artwork that addresses your aesthetic, political, or philosophical perspectives. Storytelling is central to human existence, common to every known culture and women are usually the record-keepers and the storytellers of the family. We use spoken and visual narratives to make sense of our world and to share that understanding with others. The stories areactivist/political, a contemporary interpretation of an ancient myth, and based on personal or family stories displayed with 45 works chosen by Jessica Porter.
This call was open to all self-identified women residing in the United States. WCA asked for artwork in all media and genre: figurative/narrative, text based art, and abstract/conceptual; art that weaves together a story through mood and tone, work to provoke and inspire. Artists were encouraged to interpret this theme broadly; and submit works that have resonance and meaning to them and the viewers.
Take a moment to visit the exhibition “The Stories We Tell” at the Phoenix Gallery in Cheslea (New York). The show a beautifully curated collection organized by the Women’s Caucus for Art. Last weekend’s opening was packed. Below are a few images. Full disclosure: the show includes a selection from my series, The Perfect Stone.
The Gallery is located at 210 East 11th Avenue at 25th street and The Phoenix Gallery is on the 9th floor. It is worth spending a couple of hours visiting other galleries on the street and the building.