On August 31 Jessica Roscio, curator of Danforth Art, is presenting her show DRESSED – the work of six artists working in a range of media whose works reference the intricacies of covering the body and the meaning imbued in items such as the familiar dress form… experimenting with the fluidity of form while acknowledging gendered constrictions placed on the body.
A year ago Jessica asked that I create a headwear sculpture in response to a painting from the museum’s permanent collection. For those who don’t know me, this is my absolute favorite way to work! Research, contextualizing, sketching, resketching, more research… you see my obsession.
As difficult as it is to only choose one I was particularly attracted to a painting by Nina Bohlen. Jabez Dreams is full of color, expression and utopian vitality. Naive to the meaning of the title, but sure that it was of importance to Nina, I spent some time looking into the name Jabez.
What I found is a biblical story from the Chronicles about a man, Jabez, whose name stands for sorrow, trouble and he causes pain. His mother was inspired by the name “Because I bore him in pain”. In those times names were very important and it was believed that they defined a person’s fate.
Well, Jabez was very worried about having a life of sorrow and wanted to do something about it. He engaged in a life of good deeds and prayer to God to redeem himself of this plight and apparently it worked. He was labeled with sorrow at birth, but his prayer and actions against contracting sorrow nullified the label. His life contradicted his name. I like to think of it as him taking control of his destiny. According to this online reference, God had a purpose for Israel, and a for Jabez – the plight of the persecuted in finding peace.
Metaphorically, Nina’s painting of flowers, birds and idyllic nature symbolizes sanctuary. A place of safety possibly realized by overcoming superimposed obstacles or predetermined characteristics that are endowed on individuals according to their appearance, identity or any other means.
Bringing to the present, It is uncanny how similar this story is with what’s happening to transgender voters in places like Georgia, who are being blocked from voting if their ID’s don’t match up with their birth name (and gender) at birth. I came across an article about how the first (and most important) step in claiming a new identity is the process of changing your name.
“For many transgender people, choosing a new name is the first outward claim on their new identity. It helps [other] people to start seeing and thinking about you differently — even if your body hasn’t changed, or if body changes aren’t part of your transition plan, they still have to call you something different,”
This brings me to the thesis of Dressed, and how my headwear sculpture relates to ‘the guise we present to the outside world’ and ‘the meaning imbued in items of familiar dress form’.
Call Me Rose is an elaborate over-the-top presentation of size and embellishment. The petals are created from clothing, dyed red to unify the varying patterns of plaid, herringbone, tweed, camouflage – identifing materials of being dressed. It is an object of beauty with dark undertones that requires several glances to take it in. The name follows the etiquette language of transgender name changes as outlined in the article. The effect is ambiguous, at first glance feeling feminine, at second glance masculine, at third glance something else. (Or maybe the reverse order!)
As for how it relates to the painting – the flowers in nature as objects of peace and adornment inspired my choice of the rose, and the story behind the name Jabez points to identity and overcoming the influences that have been imposed on you once you find your place.
Other works included are three of my earlier headwear sculptures Poke, Wallflower and Fascinator; plus Primped and How Things Stack Up from my Mary Janes collection and a new work of 45 embroidered tins entitled One Size Fits All.
Danforth at Framingham State University
14 Vernon Street, Framingham, MA 01701
August 31 - December 31, 2019
Reception Saturday, September 7 at 6 pm