I’ve tried to do some drawings on some of the smaller linens I have, but I can’t seem to make them work. For some reason it’s the bigger pieces that call to me. The ones that are worn and torn and stained. The ones that someone loved so much they used them enough to wear them out and then, still keep them. They have character, history. Drawing on them is like painting on the side of a rock or the ceiling of a cave. It’s like a personal graffiti.
And for me, every time I draw on linen, it’s a liberation. When my grandmother died, we found in her house, a gazillion crocheted doilies, and most of them were exactly the same. I never saw my grandmother crocheting, so I don’t even know if they were hers, but I imagined her sitting night after night when she got home from sewing at her factory job, crocheting the same doilie over and over again. I thought this is what a creative woman might find herself doing in the 1930’s and 40’s. An obsessive outlet for her creative urges. Perhaps one of the few creative outlets available to her. And I thought of all the women over the years who wrote letters instead of publishing books, or embroidered linens instead of painting masterpieces, because they were prisoners of their own minds in a society that created then reinforced their beliefs about themselves.
Now I’m sure this is not true of every woman who crocheted a table runner or embroidered a pillowcase, but for me these linens have become a symbol of my own enslavement to my mind and the beliefs I have been trying to shed my whole life. The ones that, because I’m a woman, make me feel inferior, not worthy, not enough.
So in a way, each time I take a marker to linen, I’m liberating the artist, not only in me, but the artist in the person who sewed the lace or embroidered the flowers on the edge of the linen. And hopefully that liberation is more universal and extends beyond the two of us to anyone man or woman who looks at it. Helping them to see the possibility of being free from whatever it is that might hold them captive.
And I think this is what happens when we become and know who we truly are. We are liberated from other people’s and our own incorrect ideas of ourselves. Which is why I called this piece Achieving Myself. Yesterday I listed to an interview with late Civil Rights leader Vincent Harding. He spoke of James Baldwin’s idea of “achieving ourselves”. He said, “Are there some things that are even deeper that we are meant for, meant to be, meant to do, meant to achieve? Jimmy Baldwin used to like to talk about us achieving ourselves, finding who we are, what we’re for and making that possible for each other.”
When we achieve ourselves, it not only makes life better for us, but for everyone around us.