Reviving the Victim

A recent essay on Gender Assignment on Tumblr:


Women Alone

Women alone, tossed in corners unnoticed
Eaten alive by vague disregard
Rubble in living rooms
Destitution in kitchens
Relations devour what’s left of their heart

Women subjected to endless endurance
Garments burned up by male-only rules
No money to save them, no material distractions
Humming lightly to static
hopes dashed on and on

Women in line surrounded by children
Daughter’s hands tremble, miscalculation abides
Brooding eternal, a rope always dangles
Suggesting an outcome all religions despise

Women in prisons of mind and/or body
Ribcages stricken, calves in a bind
Stomachs knotted where throats are located
Moans reduced to grumbling that all will ignore

Women zoned out by babbling networks
Their strength is gone,
Their emotions half-baked
Protestations subsided, lodged in inertia
Denials resourceful, ever ready complaints

Women in men’s clothing thinking freedom may meet them
Finding only frayed pockets where dignity’s lost
Face frozen hard in a mimicking fashion
It brings nothing but echoes
of a scream loud and long

Women baking every sultry concoction
Bitter tales of fresh icing–the calories must rise
Sleight of hand cannot alter
Thin lies they are telling
Oaths for the taking on colorful pies

Women in snowstorms covered in linen
Roofs of their mouths taste metallic and smooth
No matter what unguents
They use on their scabies
Their babies remember the cold clinic floor

Women lost on vast tundra
Hard pustules split open
Cacti can’t soothe them; spiny as sticks
At midday next morning distended bowels vanish
By degrees of repression unknown to us all

Neither TV, nor Internet; no air waves can stop it
Torrential endeavors always fail to restore
Since the mothers and sisters and brothers and fathers
Tie knots of forgetting in the midst of begetting
flayed selves unadorned

Identity does survive, though, regardless of ruckus
Warmth endures unabated
In the trace of true kindness
Trickling long after sunset down cheeks that are failing
Cantatas unheard but never unsung.

Tackling Trauma with Art

Next Saturday, I’ll be speaking at Kean University about the work in my exhibition conceived and connected with the realities of violence against women. I have included my words for anyone interested:

Chines hemp

Chinese hemp paper


Paper made with phragmites, abaca, clay and gelatin.

This body of work began with a fundamental element of civilization. That element is paper. Making paper was pivotal in feeling that there was something to be said with the artwork, the right medium for an ex-journalist/artist to manipulate.

Initially the cook in me responded to fiber such as kozo that requires a strenuous series of acts to prepare it for a machine called a Hollander. It beats it into pulp that is then formed in a mold and deckle. But paper is more than the making of it. It has an almost magical ability to transform itself with the help of a great deal of water and the chemical structure of cellulose.

I am passing around three types of paper made and used in this exhibition composed of Chinese hemp, tamale corn husks, and phragmites from the Meadowlands in Kearny: very individual paper that differs not only because of these separate products but because of different additives, Hollander heights and beating times. All this complication achieved something that presented another aspect of civilization: Violence Against Women – a reality older than paper.

The book called “Invisible” began as a prototype. Since the narrative about my brush with death during a rape (in 1996 when a man stabbed and nearly strangled me to death) was important I felt it needed a treatment to raise the bar of accomplishment.

Firstly, I made many images by covering my fingertips in black ink wash, conjuring up how I felt about the rape, hitting the paper with force. This allowed vehement splashes and imprints suggesting the moment. Later I picked one and made it into a transfer – a Photoshopped image printed with black toner on acetate exposed for the silkscreen process. Consistency makes for a proper edition. Black Chinese silk, a luxurious book cloth, graces the front and back cover.

I worked in three studios: Kean, Women’s Studio Workshop in Rosendale and the Center for Book Arts, the two latter in New York. The front side of the accordion fold has red ink letterpress text along the bottom of the page giving the gist of what I call the big media the event. Blind embossed text (without ink on the metal type) appears on the back side of the book; understated but not lesser sexual violence that does not make the news. A stiff leaf binding gives the book its structural strength.

Since this was not an easy story to bring to the page, making all these elements work was an improbable undertaking. The title was hot stamped by a professional and now friend at CBA, Biruta Auna. The endeavor involved a widening series of cohorts. If it was not for these connections and the funding and physical space from Kean University, it would never be realized. Instead of a book, this is an arsenal of voices, voices that ebbed and flowed during the book’s progress.

Art has an extraordinary ability to transcend trauma and leave a thing of beauty in place of its terribleness. Book art is where we, the people, have our say. The book is not dead as so many will tell you with electronic medium taking full force. It is a malleable combination of things that work in concert with the times. It was the electronic medium of the Internet that lead me to Aesha Mohammadzai’s story. Her face and that of many other women appeared in Google images when I missed the last word and typed only “violence against.” I came to an unspeakable page; one I could not digest myself since I saw in her eyes my own forgotten look of terror. But come back to it I must, and that is how the two other books evolved; through pain and interest, through wariness and idea.

The idea for bosses as you see in “The Price of Freedom” came from a small education in medieval manuscript covers from my Twitter account. Scholars of the book and time period posted links to digitized collections. You can see the first boss I made yourself to know how these things begin, what they look like in the raw.


Brass boss before polishing

My life as a practicing artist/writer comes to fruition in this work. The notion of metaphor used in GWB (that’s not George Washington Bridge or George W. Bush) but Giant Water Bugs came from reading Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, a book of biological intensity that creates images from words unlike any other work I know of. The link was immediate when she describes how the insect dissolves and sucks life from its prey leaving only the skin intact. A woman raped, disfigured or assaulted in any violent way becomes a creature whose body you can see but whose interior life disappears in a vortex. Invisibility persists because no one wants to talk about it. They want you to forget. My family has ever uttered the word “rape.” I have said it many times but there has been no discussion and little acknowledgement. Such is the taboo. A fierce piece of history becomes a part of you. It is generally incomprehensible except, in my case, to law enforcement or veterans of combat. They understand the nature of violence in a decidedly different way but a common ground generates that is not found in polite conversation.

These are some my reasons and methods for creating the work you see in the James Howe Gallery. I hope you will pick up the books and read them. You may even engage with The Price of Freedom book as others did by writing your comments on the pages that fold out. No one may ever see this work again but those who have left their messages will travel with me where ever I go. They will attest to the fact that we lived and met here under the circumstances of life and art.

Wax Ear & Brass Nose

Beautiful, chained but now free. That's the Aesha I made art for.

Beautiful, chained but now free. That’s that the Aesha I made art for.

Part of an installation concerning Aesha Mohammadzai

Part of an installation concerning Aesha Mohammadzai

As you can read on the image from yesterday’s post, Afghani woman Aesha Mohammadzai had her nose and ears cut off by her father-in-law after she was released from a Taliban jail. She spent five months there because she wanted to leave her husband. This installation was created for a masters thesis at Kean University. There are five 10 x 13 inch sheets of Chinese hemp paper I made from hemp Jim Croft had cooked with wood ash and water in a large cauldron outside his Idaho home. At that time neither of us knew where the pulp we processed would end up. The hemp fiber was sun dried for a week and my portion came back east where it was beat at Women’s Studio Workshop in Rosendale New York the following March. I pressed the sheets there and took them home to New Jersey. It wasn’t until after I cast a brass nose in Jen Crupi’s metals studio at Kean University and made a wax cast of my ear (that’s how the nose was made; through lost wax process poured with ancient brass in a centrifuge machine. The mold was made from dental putty.) to accompany it that the project began to evolve. I wanted to cast a nose ever since I saw a post by Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris otherwise known on Twitter as @ChirurgeonsAppr on her website: My interest in medical history merged with trauma and connection.
The final result of hanging hemp paper referenced Most Wanted posters as well as the Shroud of Turin. I wanted a kind of shrine for Aesha since her bravery is astounding. I printed an image of her face sans nose in gray ink through an intaglio method. I rusted iron nails over 9 months and used them in five perforated holes to hang across the wall where the book stood on a pedestal. The text and images in the resulting book were also photo intaglio. These were the processes available to me so that is what I used. Within the book are comments she made in various newspaper articles. After a long and painful process, Aesha recieved a new nose that was created through intensive constructive surgery. Her most powerful message was, “I want to tell all women who are suffering abuse to be strong. Never give up and don’t lose hope.” Parts of the story can read here: and here: (Note: This is not for the sqeamish).
The wonder of the Internet is that all of these seemingly diverse connections can converge to make a statement that draws them together in passion, compassion and the creative spirit. Perhaps Aesha received so much attention because she is beautiful. Many of the women on the page I mentioned in an earlier post were not. Sometimes this is how people are drawn into a heinous scenario. I made the artwork luxurious to get people to look at it. Once they were in, the fearful reality of the pieces made itself known. Fold out pages allowed viewers to write their reactions. It is marvelous to see the comments multiply over time. If at least one person gave thought to what I presented, then my act of art was successful.
Viewers responded to the art within the art book itself becoming part of the piece.

Viewers responded to the art within the art book itself becoming part of the piece.