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the balance is already shifting

"the balance is already shifting"

Within my exploration of print media I have been investigating themes and representations of beauty, as related to gender and femininity, and how symbols and notions of beauty can be used to communicate juxtaposition and tension, perhaps to unearth various façades, or underlying interactions and perceptions. The Baha’i Writings have largely informed my intellectual framework within my artistic practice, as well as my individual identity and understanding of the world. For this project I was specifically inspired and informed by the following quotation from the Baha’i Writings:

The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over woman by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But the balance is already shifting; force is losing its dominance, and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy. Hence the new age will be an age less masculine and more permeated with the feminine ideals, or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced. 

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, quoted by J. E. Esslemont in “Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era”, 5th rev. ed. (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1987), p. 149) 

A key principle in the Baha’i Faith is the equality of men and women, and this passage directly addresses shifts in culture related to the “feminine” and “female” attributes of society becoming stronger and more necessary in the world.

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Within my installation “the balance is already shifting”, I used three different recycled household linens, all of which I purchased at Value Village, a thrift store in Vancouver. I specifically chose three sheets with floral patterns that were aesthetically similar to one another. I spent many hours deconstructing, and cutting up these materials, isolating specific flowers, creating an abundance of pieces that were once part of a whole. I left in portions of the seams of the fabric, to make visible the use and original context of the material. I then silkscreen printed a stencil that I created of hands coming together in various gestures of mutual support and tenderness, onto various sections of the linens. Hands are a symbol of agency and identity that I feel can communicate collective and individual gesture, nurturing, expression, and relationship. I meant for this stencil to embody themes of the above quotation. In playing with themes of transparency and subtlety, I used white ink so that the image of hands would become so engrained in the material itself, that it is hidden unless examined close up. In this way, I find that the visual imagery of hands becomes the subtext of the linens, and communicates underlying themes of mutual support and coming together.

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The idea that humanity is entering a stage of development more centered on themes of “love and service”, feminine qualities of nurturing and care, struck me as a deeply embedded subtext of the specific fabrics I was using. The sheets themselves are items that evoke maternal care, the home, the “sphere” of the woman as a nurturer, as they are items that have actually been used in various people’s homes, and thus carry individual histories. The flower as a symbol, is also loaded with layers of meaning in regards to the “feminine” and the “beautiful”. There are many references to flowers as a metaphor within the Baha’i Writings, and these moments of reference also deeply informed my reflection regarding the meaning of this symbol.

 

Abdu'l-Bahá refers to the world of humanity as a garden in which “the various races are the flowers which constitute its adornment and decoration”. I found this relationship between humanity and notions of adornment and decoration specifically significant in using household materials that had aesthetic floral designs that are clearly meant to adorn a home environment. The flower is clearly wrapped up in practices of adornment, and has industrially become a means to “beautify” household items. I found that this material and spiritual parallel of the flower as a means of adornment, or as a metaphor of the beauty within the diversity of the human race, creates an interesting metaphorical relationship embedded within the materials that I was working with.

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In comparing humanity to a garden, the Baha’i Writings also emphasize that while there are “different kinds, various colors and diverse forms and appearances” of flowers within a garden, all of the plants “drink from one water, are swayed by one breeze and grow by the warmth and light of one sun” and ultimately, “this variation and this difference cause each to enhance the beauty and splendor of the others”. Within my installation, I echoed this spiritual concept of oneness. As I began to cut up and isolate the various flowers, they became more “beautiful” and unique, in relation to one another, and the process of deconstruction of the material led to a construction of a more complex and mutual interaction between the various elements.

I am interested in communicating dualities of support and fragmentation within my work. There is a coming together as well as a cutting apart. This dual process embodies the social reality of a deconstruction of our understanding of gender equality, that involves a cutting apart, which can be painful, but also a coming together, into a new understanding and bigger picture of collective identity and mutual support.

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