Tuesday, July 7, 2009


today's project was a challenge; i decided some time ago to make a hair adornment for a rather miraculous woman. a queen.

she is brilliant, an internationally respected artist. she will be married in a few weeks, and i have imagined one of my pieces in her hair...maybe for an event surrounding the celebration. i began the process with more than a bit of trepidation, as i don't know her well.

i tried a little jump start; by the time i had entered the first 4 letters of her name into the window of my search engine, a string of suggestions popped up...

wangechi mutu
wangechi mutu bio
wangechi mutu pregnant

okay. i have pictures, beautiful pictures, my belly stretched to the limit of fullness, pregnant with twins. my sister took the photos.

wangechi and her pregnant belly were photographed by annie leibovitz for the april 2009 vogue 'shape' issue. perhaps it should not matter, but it sort of made me wonder who, exactly, do i think i am expecting that she would wear something of mine?

i started by sketching a sort of earth /moon mama, with a couple of my most present totems

the first time i met her i was not familiar with her work, though i had heard a story or two about her; she and the tall person with whom i live went to school together. i tagged along to a barbecue at her home a few summers ago, and i was immediately smitten. the kind of smitten that had me worrying the hem of my dress, and had stolen all words from me. i managed my duties with my children... for the most part. at some point my son, three years old at the time, made his way up the spiral staircase in the backyard, which leads to the upper patio. he was sort of leaning over the banister (in full view of the entire party) by the time i got to him.

i was mortified.

later, i went upstairs to see wangechi's studio. i crossed the threshold into truly sacred space. a secret garden. and i wept.

i wept.

there were immense canvases. women. bending, twisting...misshapen? birdlike chimeras.


there was paint and ink. pages torn from magazines. sequins and glitter. all these women. and they were looking at me and they were challenging me to look at myself. extreme poses and extreme proportions and somehow in their extremity and distortion, all the more real.

i wept at how safe i felt, in that space. all around me reflections of my (ourur) perfect imperfection. chaotic and exquisite and violent with power.

cut shapes from felted sweaters according to my sketch

the next day i shared (what i was able to) with a friend. she expressed having had a similar experience on a trip to the m.o.m.a.. that night she sent me a link to the artist's work that elicited the same sort of tide of emotion from her.

of course the artist was wangechi.

today, as i worked i thought of all this. and i thought of the cobalt blue braids she wears in her hair. i thought of her baby's eyes bright and full of wisdom. i thought about the polka-dot dress (of which my daughter has yet to cease speaking) that she wore to her baby shower.

maybe some feathers to get the cobalt blue and polka dots in there?

i wondered what her wedding will be like. 'rachel getting married' came to mind; a nuptial kaleidoscope. la strada...only in color. delicious, eclectic music and people. a pentecostal spectrum of languages and accents. and happy happy happy.

first machine and hand embroidery, then began the beading

i thought about my own wedding, the joy and hope. how we spoke our vows as u.s. troops marched into iraq. how our hearts wrestled with the timing of it.

i mounted the whole piece onto this gorgeous indian silk plaid leftover from the pants i wore for my wedding

i thought of wangechi's grace. her generosity and hospitality.

i wondered when...if...i will ever contain my ego and recognize that this woman (in front of whom i implode, fold in upon myself) is just as much a reflection of me as are her collages. if i will ever manage to complete a sentence in her presence. why i fail to accept that i am no less than she. it is dubious that i will experience the recognition, shoulder the admiration which is part of her journey. i don't know that i will ever fine-tune...ever know my work the way she seems to know hers.

her well-deserved success aside, why do i believe that i am less worthy of the air that i breathe, of the very space which i occupy than the next person? why am i able to see such heartbreaking (and heart opening) beauty all around me, yet not inside me.

who did this to me, and why do i continue to do it to myself? as i work, i pray that i do not pass this on to amzi. she has my nose...the crease that slides across her brow when she concentrates is all me, but please dear god let her know her own beauty.


that was the moment when the most haunting song came on the pandora stream...'alli en la reina, dolor'(here, in the queen, pain). and i began llorando. otra vez.

the tears cloud my eyes, and i can't see my beading. the stitches start going wonky. but rather than stopping, i sewed faster. the sequins around the belly button fell a bit out of line (like the sequins scattered on wangechi's studio floor) and the blanket stitching around the belly looks a bit like the crooked reminder of a cesarean section which awkwardly stumbles across my once smooth tummy.

she looks like a woman who has been through a tumble or two

and instead of admonishing myself while i ripped out the stitches, convinced she will never, never, ever want to wear this or anything that i've made...

i thought to myself that the bent, twisted stitches, and the meandering sequins...may very well be wangechi's favorite part.

i'll wait to attach a hairclip, chopstick, or comb in accordance with the wearer's preference.
and i think she still needs more blue. more cobalt blue.

No comments:

Post a Comment