‘Don’t Tread On Me,’ by Jenifer Mokren has become the official flag of the Exquisite Uterus Project. Jenifer is an exquisite artist and educator from Green Bay, WI.
The Exquisite Uterus Project was initiated in the spring of 2012 in reaction to, what is being called the most current ‘War on Women.’ Fiber artist and educator Alison Gates and I decided to offer feminists the opportunity to participate in this collaborative art project to channel some of the rage we were experiencing at the attacks on women’s reproductive health in this political environment. I wrote about our motivation in an earlier post.
A plethora of uteri arrive in my mailbox in August.
Basically the project grows out of our contention that reproductive freedom is critical to our human dignity, self-determination and equality. We have a vision for a world where every woman is free to decide whether and when to have children; where every woman has access to the best reproductive healthcare available; where every woman can exercise her choices without coercion or discrimination. Essentially, we envision a world where every woman participates with full dignity as an equal member of society.
It turned out others share that vision too, and withing the limits of the project these creatives have expressed their perspective on the issues in fiber, paint, bead, and sequins. The response has been awe inspiring. You can see the entire virtual version of this project with artist statements on a Pinterest Site we created. Please check it out!
Give Birth To Yourself, mixed-media, by Nina Laden, Seattle, Washington
The Exquisite Uterus Project is currently on display in the Reeve Union/Steinhilber Gallery at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh as a part of a larger exhibition, Power, Politics, and Performance: Gender, Art , And Resistance, featuring four fabulous artists:Dan Barry, Edward Robin Coronel, Kerie Throw, and Angela Richardson.
The entire exhibition runs September 4th-October 6th, 2012, with a closing reception Friday October 5th, 5:00-7:00 PM.
The exhibition is held in conjunction with the regional Wisconsin Women’s Studies and LGBTQ Conference . The conference will be October 5-6, 2012 at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Join us!
Debra Klebesadel’s “’Golden Comfort Palace of the Womb’ is an expression of and devotion to the miraculous power, creativity, and mystery of the female experience of fertility, including its exquisite joys and terrible sorrows, its profound pleasures and piercing pains, its highest hopes and bottomless fears, and, more so, its role in a woman’s sense of personal identity and direct connection to and participation in the universal Great Chain of Being. Yes, all that. Do not subjugate this power.” (Yes, she is my sister).
Exquisite: Carefully selected; marked by flawless craftsmanship or by beautiful ingenious, or elaborate execution; deep sensitivity or intense understanding; pleasing through beauty fitness, or perfection…
Exquisite Corpse: Among Surrealist techniques exploiting the mystery of
Another ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ was created by Kathleen Buchanan of Stanwood, WA. Other text on the piece includes “Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine!
accident, it was a collective collage of words or images called the cadavre exquis (exquisite corpse). Based on an old parlor game, it was played by several people, each of whom would place their contribution on sheet of paper, fold the paper to conceal part of it, and pass it on to the next player for his contribution.
Uterus: a major female hormone-related reproductive sex organ of most mammals including humans. One end, the cervix, opens into the vagina, while the other is connected to the fallopian tubes and ovaries. It is within the uterus that the fetus develops during gestation. It is attached to bundles of nerves, and networks of arteries, veins, and ligaments that are essential to sexual response in directing blood flow to the pelvis and to the external genitalia.
“Tight’ was created by artist Sara Detweiler of Green Bay, WI. This beautifully beaded piece is even lovelier in person. The photo doesn’t do it justice.
Exquisite Uterus: An ingenious collaborative project, elaborately executed and sensitive to the perspective of women who seek to retain control over their own uteri without over-medicalization, or government or religious intervention in their reproductive health. Beautifully executed to respond to the politics of the times. The project promotes common and affordable access for all to medical and preventative healthcare necessary for reproductive health and well-being, and recognizes that women are the appropriate decision-makers for their reproductive and other life choices.
This fabulous painted piece by Deb Flagel from Madison, WI is entitled ‘Rosie Returns,’ She declares “My Uterus, My Decision!” Note the fatigues, hand grenade ovaries, and red scarf.
An invitation was extended to interested artists and other motivated participants asking them to embellish a plain cloth uterus “blank” (a square of organic white cotton canvas fabric with a simple black and gray medical illustration of a female reproductive system printed permanently on its surface.) The ‘blank’ was made available in my shop print-on-demand fabric shop on Spoonflower.com. (Its now my best selling fabric).
Participants were invited to manipulated creativity obvious to all. We only asked that participants not take their uterus for granted, but that we claim it as ours to direct! When asked for guidance from the curators the typical response was, “Its YOUR uterus. You get to do whatever you want with it!” Participants were urged to have fun with it but to consider how our ability to take control of our own personal uterus (and health care decisions) is a very serious and, increasingly political issue.
Wisconsin Fiber artist Jill Robinson gets right to the point with exquisite detail!
The response to the project has been overwhelming. Makers range from professional artists to first time creatives, all determined to have their say. They are healthcare workers, and parents, men and women, of all ages and backgrounds. Close to 200 uteri appeared from all over the USA, Canada, Germany, and Denmark. They came as quilt squares, pillows, aprons, and headdresses.
This apron created by Theresa McNeil, Mary Sanderson and Sara Williams all of Madison, WI declares ” I choose when I cook in this kitchen!’ (Sara and Mary are both members of the Raging Grannies, radical singers of Madison, WI).
Each uterus is unique, and each one addresses some aspect of women’s reproductive health or well-being. Along with the uteri have come statements and stories that range from empowering and moving to sad, and funny.
Stories of the making of the uteri have included individuals creating their submissions anonymously, because it was too hard to be identified with the project, to groups women coming together in their communities (Red Lodge Montana was a model for this approach) to make art, support and learn about their local reproductive health providers, and to register to vote, sometimes all in the same evening.
This is a truly exquisite uterus. It was submitted anonymously from Montana. The text says ‘Its a mad, mad, mad, mad, world.’ We agree.
Alison and I are humbled and awed by the power of feminist humor and creativity represented in this project and its promise of agency and action. Our understanding of our own experience was summed up in this message I received from one of the participants:
”I wanted to thank you so much for the opportunity to be part of this project! I’ve been fighting for women’s reproductive rights since I was 17 (I’m now about to be 46), and nothing I’ve been involved in (protest, letter writing, visiting politicians and local law enforcement, clinic defense) has brought me such a sense of catharsis, healing, joy and accomplishment as the Exquisite Uterus Exhibition.
‘Venus Envy’ was created by Julie D’Angelo of Burbank, CA. She says “The elephant symbolizes the ‘GOP’ -a group who is obsessed with women’s reproductive power and how to limit it…but they even realize that the elephants are a matriarchal society.”
My husband found your call for entries and shared it with me. As soon as I read about it, the ideas started flowing. If I’d had the time, I think I could have executed at least thirty submissions. Something about the project has struck me, very deeply and profoundly.
I also wanted to thank you for photographing and posting all of the entries, including the creators’ statements. I can tell that so much love and care has gone in to representing each one accurately. Being able to see them all is a powerful experience — I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, but most importantly, viewing them all has given me a sense of hope and community for women’s reproductive rights on a larger scale than I had experienced previously.”
Alison and I are honored by the all the participants who made contributions to the Exquisite Uterus Project.
Continuing in the same vein, in the continuing effort to use serious humor to bring visibility to the issues I send a shout out to the women of Michigan. Thursday September 20th Michigan women legislators and citizens held flash dance mob on capitol steps for reproductive rights in the face of conservative legislation moving through senate. They are asking their Governor to veto the bill should it make it to his desk. Check out their moves to exert control and autonomy over their bodies!
I wish I could show all of the uteri to you. If you are near Oshkosh, check out the exhibition in person. See all 160+ on Pinterest. Here are just a few more of wonderful uteri that are a part of the project, along with their artist statements!
Sampler, is a mixed-media, by Margaret McDowell, Carrollton, TX. She says, “In the style of Klimt, but honoring Adele Bloch-Bauer, this piece is a metaphor for something prized, stolen, valued, and retrieved. The next election will prove if the last part will ever come true.”
‘Like a Flower,’ by Clarice Zucker, Milwaukee, WI. “My obstetrician said, a post meopausal uterus was like an old sock! I said, “How about a flower”…and showed a Georgia O’Keeffe painting to him.”
Eunice Choi of Jamaica Plains, Massachusetts created this delicate and beautiful needle worked uterus.
‘My Body is Not Your Issue’ by Tess Rutz, Madison, WI. It calls for: ‘Equal pay for equal work. Right to choose. Legal Potection against any violence. The right to speak freely and openly. Birth control. Sex education. Cancer screenings, Unbiased medical care and advice.’ Yes!
The Beauty of It All, by Future Akins, Lubbuck, TX. It has not been my’gut’ which offered advice over the years but my uterus. Sometimes whispering invitations of enticing encounters, other times hushed warnings of betrayal. What a mysterious pulsating organ of womanhood, connecting me to nature from the monthly flows of a young innocent to the desert dances of a sage. Each bead, each sequin is a celebration of the journey.
‘Healing Uteri Buddha’ was created by Madison, WI artist Maxene White. Part of her statement reads: ” Acts of Resistance take great strength from those who have the awareness, energy, & time to fight back. My “Self-Defined Uterus” represents a space for the women of the world, who are having a war waged against them, to heal. It is both an internal & external place for the collective to replenish, rest, and re-strengthen…Fight back!
Ed Check of Lubbock, TX (raised in Manitowoc, WI) created this moving uterus. His text says “I never got to thank my working class mom for letting me wear a dress in 1961. To all working class women who are intelligent, wise, and visionary — we queer son’s honor you.
Eugenia (Jody) May of Spring Green, Wisconsin created this many layered work called ‘Femininity.’ Jody writes about the piece, “For 70 years I have camouflaged my Femininity. Now I embrace it and meditate on the pearls scattered in the fields.
Anne Waitzman of Fennimore, WI created this fabulous history lesson for us in ‘My Politicized Uterus.’ Take a close look at the progression away from and back toward the hanger.
Artist Candace Forrette has created this absolutely delightful piece entitled ‘Put on Your Best Panties,” and included the additional text “Start Marching” and “Protect your rights.” She is from Billings, Montana. Montana was second only to Wisconsin in submissions to the project
Dee Czarniecki’s, mixed media with buttons is a wonderful piece. Dee is from Madison, WI.
Alison Gates shared her own Bayeux Tapestry inspired Uterus . It says, in pidgin Latin : “Do not allow the bastards to grind you down.” A nod to both Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaidens Tale but also, a speculation on the Holy Grail and … Well, Monty Python too!
Artist Tiffany L Pascal of Grand Forks, Nebraska send this fierce and fabulous piece that could be a study for a graphic novel (I’d buy it). Her texts include such phrases as “You know you live with a strong woman when you walk in the bathroom and see her vibrator lying on the sink.” “Just because I’m a Muslim woman doesn’t mean I don’t like vaginas.”
Feminist artist Carol Flueckiger of Lubbock, TX shares this piece we call ‘Emancipation.’ Carol explains her process here: “Cyanotype on printed square. Text is from 19th century broadside calling for dress reform. Early American feminist/reformers/abolitionists were discussing how their clothes affected their ideas about equality and democracy.”
Fruit and Flower, embroidery by Maggie Rozycki Hiltner, Red Lodge, Montana. Maggy is one of the Montana Red Lodge Art of Resistance leaders. She was one of the professional artists who were on hand one evening in June in Red Lodge to assist and encourage participants’ creative process as they made their uterus their own. We thank Maggie and her cohort for using this project to bring women together to organize and share information about the issues (and register voters!)!
Lori Ushman of Madison, Wisconsin created this wonderful photo collage. “Don’t F*** With Mother Nature.’
Artist Amy Bethel lives in Madison, WI. Her uterus overlays an internationally recognized warning sign which is, itself, overlaid with text which includes, but is not limited to, phrases such as “Unauthorized reproduction may be illegal. Does not cause mental retardation or mental illness. Not intended as a penis substitute. Do not avoid contact with legislators. Act now, this opportunity may be withdrawn at any time. Comes complete with clitoris (not pictured). This unit is self-cleaning.”
Hanging by a Thread, mixed media, by Roberta Condon, Portage, WI. She says, “This piece shows the Gemini, mother of twins, with the words of “The Vagina Monologues” forming the texture of the background. The mop washes up blood, sweat, and tears that spring from our womb and souls as we struggle to bring these beautiful people into the world. My male children give the women they love freedom, and mark their accomplishments. They’ve seen my struggle, and love me, and I hope they’ll make good husbands.”
I began my uterus the day it arrived in the mail. I knew instantly that I wanted to adorn it with sequins in the style of a Haitian Drapo Voodou to signify that I am, indeed, a devotee of the exquisite uterus. My step-children, ages six and eight, sorted a thousand multicolored sequin into muffin tins. Being a novice sequiner, I began with the uterus itself, choosing to make a radiant all-American uterus from reds, and pinks, silver, and blue. This project is a patriotic ode. As soon as I was done with the uterus itself I realized my mistake. I need more contrast between my uterus and the glittery golden sky. I was paralyzed in an artistic quagmire of my own creation. I rolled up my uterus and threw it in the bottom of an ‘Urban Outfitters’ bag and waited for inspiration. My uterus did not bejewel itself. With a lack of contrast, the actual uterus blnds into the yellow background like a subliminal femivision test. I waited so long that finishing my uterus became an emergency. We had to take it along to Ethiopian Culture Camp. There was a huge cross by the fire pit. I was worried of being judged, of being labeled the crazy-vodoo-uterus-spirit-flag-sewing-lady. It has happened before. “Oh, how beautiful, what is it?” they asked. “Chicken,” My partner teased. Easy for him to say. He was not the one sitting under the shadow of a giant cross sewing sequins on his uterus for the entire world to see. It was surprisingly hot beneath the super-sized cross. I walked to the edge of Geneva Lake and met a woman named Colleen resting below the protective arms of an old broad oak. She pointed out her 19 year old biological son and her six year old adopted one playing Frisbee together. She wanted more children when her eldest was born. At age 48, after invasive and expensive fertility procedures had not worked, she adopted a child from Ethiopia. Now she has ovarian cancer and it is spreading about and the treatments are exhausting. Ovarian cancer sucks. I told her the truth. Its not just any old abstract art project. Its a exquisite (healing) uterus. She saw it then. We were quiet together. I thought about my friend, mentor and professor, Mimi Orner, who died of ovarian cancer (1959-2000). She taught me and many others about the value of the exquisite uterus and the art of resistance. I will always miss her.
Finally, my own:
This wearable headdress is entitled ‘Ms. WeAreWatching (and voting since 1920)’ created by co-curator Helen Klebesadel
There are so many more fabulous pieces and interesting statements in this project. Please take check out the virtual exhibition and do your part to act to ensure our access to good and complete reproductive healthcare continues and grows!