sweepRANT by Sarah Cameron

I don’t want to sweep the floor any more
I don’t want to sweep the floor anymore
I must have swept it 10 times today
I don’t want to sweep the floor anymore.

It’s dull, monotonous, dreary, drab
irksome, humdrum, nut-dummin’ banal.
I havna nothing ‘gainst sweeping per se
I quite like it actually;
but to do it quite as much as I do
steals my intellect, vibrancy, my derring-do –
I wager it would steal yours too.

ENNUI
the tedium of R e p e t i t i on
day in day in again,
shall I say it again?
R e p e t i t i o n
day in day in again.
R E P E T I T I O N
tition Re Tit ion ion Re Tit Tit ion
shall I say it again?

Annoying isn’t it?

That’s what I feel like about the floor.

O the dishes too AND the shopping,
the cleaning,
the tidying
the washing,
O! Everest o’ Washing
A summit o’ grime
No pristine peak
an’ pennin’ ma name in a HIStory Book
The Cleaning
The Tidying
The Washing
The Sewin’
The Sortin’
The Binnin’
the peggin’ o’ clothes to dry again
foldin’ them makkin’ them neat
pairin’ the socks
seekin’ the space inby the drawers
squeezin’ an’ stuffin’, huffin, puffin’
clenchin’ gr’und teeth
takin’ a breath
overwhelmed wi’ mess
‘shit how to detox this LOT?’
an’ when I think I’ve done it aw
boo hoo No Luck,
it’s to do aw over when I look up.

The cookin’
The cookin’
The COOKin’!
The filin’ o’ plates in the machine
that washes them clean
until they’re dirty aw over again!
The Dinner Breakfast Snacks
the Lunches packt,
shoppin’ again, the sweeping, the SWEEPING
the guilt I’m chucking stuff oot we should be EATIN’!
Evidently I’m no employing The Brain
I should be using
to be choosing
to do things
BETTER.

Regurgitate an’ spew it oot!
Clean it up, aw that muck!
For do you know it’s what I do
‘lang wi billion other wummen too?
Day in day oot, shakin’ oor brains aboot,
sloosh oot, OOT our Ears!
BRAINS spill through drains
ratatat on pot an’ pans
splatter stairs, squirt the sink
plop plop in stew, the bin too, the cat food,
spew atop the grimy floor,
doon the grubby uncleaned Loo…

Oh Sisyphus I am not
heavin’ a rock
up hill
til
it tumbles in punishin’ cycle.
Nor Prometheus.
My liver is intact,
not ramshed, re-growed an’ ramshed once mair
by Eagle beak an’ hungry claw.
Not Tantalus I
foriver tantalised;
nor Ixion spun in perpetuity
on flaming wheel …whit destiny!
Alas, Mythical status is not afforded Wummen’s Daily Chores.
No tale will be wrote o’ bakin’ a pie,
stitchin’ a rip, plumpin’ a pillow
sloppin’ wairm milk intil mashed potato –
though certes it’s mythical in its endlessness, ness, ness
indeed I empathise wi’ Sisyphus…
Forsooth,
I do not suffer like them ancient souls above
For they are Men
An’ wumman are nowhere near the same
A Bloke’s sufferin’ is Monumental
Wummans’ only Temperamental
Downright screechingly Hysterical!
Forsooth
I do not suffer like them ancient souls above
I do not bleed or burn
I’m just fed up o’ sweepin’ the floor
I’ve done it so many times afore
I don’t want to do it anymore.
I don’t want to do it again.


Two Heads, Two Hearts, and the Mother Goddess

I’m a Fraud. I’m a sometime-artist. A sometime-performer. A sometime-writer. A sometimer. Sometimes I’m a non-artist, a non-performer, a non-writer. A non-body. A Nobody. In spite of this lack of entity and identity, an artist is what I am. It’s my safe space. Without my art I’m adrift in dark and deep choppy seas. Defeated. Inert. A Dead Soul.

I’m also a Mother. A full-time Mother. Sometimes, a sometime Mother. A non-Mother, too. A Fraud. NB I put Artist before Mother! Gasp! The Guilt! “What does that mean?” hisses the judging She-Critic in my head, “A BAD Mother? Certainly neither properly Artist nor properly Mother” the cruel critic adds, spitefully.

The truth is I’ve always felt a Fraud. I’ve heard a lot of women feel similarly. I feel especially tricky about myself because I’m a Jack of All Trades Artist – a Sculptor by training, inclination and spirit but a performer too – also a writer, or am I more of a poet? I draw and make installations; after making a short film some years back & continuing to make filmic sketches, I intend to make at least one feature in my life. Sculpture is my language even though I no longer traditionally sculpt. Everything I put my hand to is mapped in 3d form, at least in my own bonkers head; the words I write are dynamic and invisible 3d energy-bombs that shape at your ear & explode, only alive when they quit the flat page; my performances are vigorous, animated lines and planes that move through and beyond space. (Blimey, I’m thinking to myself, no wonder I feel like a Fraud). I don’t fit into a BOX. Once, on moaning to my flatmate about my Jack of all Trades-ness, a woman who was queuing in front of me for a coffee turned to me and with striking generosity of spirit she said, “Sounds to me like you’re a Renaissance Woman.” I was gobsmacked. And chuffed! It was easier to belittle myself than to consider I might be skilled at more than one thing. I never got to thank her but I’ve never forgotten her.

After having my first child, I discovered to my horror that I wasn’t seen as a woman anymore or even an individual, certainly not an artist – only, Mother. Society defined me by Motherhood and little else, at least when my bairns were wee; it came as a huge shock even although deep down I’d known what to expect. When the blue-line had screamed ‘Pregnant’ I fixed my joyful partner’s gaze and hissed, “Don’t ever make me give up my Art.” I’d never been more serious about anything in my life. But I wasn’t really talking to him. I understood our patriarchal world too well. Motherhood should empower us; instead our sterile and soulless society degrades, diminishes and shackles us. Consequently approaching Motherhood filled me with anguish. I was in peril, in mortal danger, an existential force threatened to annihilate me. I was petrified I’d go mad. Making art keeps me Alive. Without it I couldn’t possibly survive – the life raft gone, what would I cling to? I would drown and take my innocent baby with me.

For a while I lived in the dark, choppy seas. After Babe was born, strapped about my heart or snuggled in (my nemesis) The Pram aka The Prison – I became the property of many. My mother, who’d once told me I’d never have children because I was too selfish (in reference to my being an artist I presume?) was either censorious or absent, my mother-in-law berated and undermined me, near everyone else felt they had the right to chastise and scrutinise. The interventions happened on the street, on the bus and tube, at the shops, on the beach even; places where I’d hitherto been joyously free to contemplate and cogitate became war-zones, “Your baby’s too warm!” or “Is your baby alive?’ or “Put a hat on your child! or “You’re an irresponsible and stupid Mother!” The scowls, tuts and sidelong glances were equally demoralising and draining. Not only was I in mortal combat with my own demon, I was assaulted everywhere I went by a She-Chorus of disapproving and cruel faultfinders! On one occasion an older woman attacked me with such vitriol that she stunned a whole shop into silence – to this day I’ve no idea what I’d done to offend her; as a wise hag now, I know it was always only ever her issue – point one finger at me, point three at yourself. My Inner Goddess, never fully formed alas, shrunk to a shrivelled cinder at my heart. My absent mother offered no help. My partner worked long hours and although he had the delightful and glamorous bonus of eating in Michelin starred restaurants at lunchtime, and although his career soared whilst mine evaporated (that’s hard to write) the burden of Breadwinner took its toll on him; the jealously, the fatigue, the anxiety, and the responsibility of motherhood took its toll on me. When I ventured out to parties, which I assumed would be safe, supporting spaces, I realised I was fair game there too! At my sister’s birthday do, a woman advised me that my ever-hungry son was only hungry because my breast-milk was inadequate. At two separate birthday gatherings, two different men unknown to each other and on hearing that I was writing a book asked if was I “doing a children’s one?” the implication being that from a male perspective at least (twice was surely too much of a coincidence) mothers were only capable of writing children’s books; these guys simultaneously and with ease managed to degrade both children’s literature and mothers in one fell swoop – two for one! At another party, a man who worked in publishing and who’d also assumed I was writing a children’s book, went on and on for ages about how easy it is to write children’s books and how he churned them out when required. At the same party a fellow whose wife is responsible for a huge London Art Fair, on asking me what I did (I dared to reply ‘Artist’) spat, “Was I a real artist? Did I know what it meant to be an artist? Had I suffered for my art? Really suffered? He had friends, you see, who had endured penury!” Can you imagine this man daring to say that to another man? It crushed me. WAS I AN ARTSIST? I wondered, befuddled by lack of sleep and dizzyingly out of body with my aching, leaking breasts. COULD I CLAIM TO BE AN ARTIST? The pasting got bloodier still when my old friend, a mother herself, piped in as if revelling in the attack, “You’re not an artist, Sarah! Not a visual artist! I mean what do you *do?” Suffice to say, she’s no longer my friend.

I grew isolated and resentful. Domestic chores became mind-numbingly imprisoning. Bejewelled wi’ posset and a belly that surely wasn’t mine I marvelled that the life I’d lived previous was but an imagining brim-full of theatre, cinema and art galleries; long nourishing walks about my city; wild cycles through Soho or along the canal; travel, exciting projects and exciting people; unlimited, uninterrupted stretches of meditative time. I no longer recognised myself, either in spirit or changed body. With no escape in sight, I disappeared. No one valued me as Mother. No one recognised me as Artist. I didn’t recognise myself. You’re only as visible as your last piece of work, mocked The She Critic. In spite of my deep love for my Boy, I felt few loved me back. Patronised and dismissed, I found myself drowning. I became Nothing.

As our Boy grew, I gleefully found snatched bits of time. I drew. I wrote greedily – when my son started nursery I became a writer obsessed. Sunlight shone through the dark. But when I discovered I was pregnant for a second time, and fearing I’d be unable to cope with two we’ans, I finally sought help. Near a year ago, I finished 14 years of invaluable therapy that changed my life. It was a tough ride but as I healed, my confidence grew. I performed again! Being a mother inspired my writing and my making, gifting both a profound new dimension and gravitas; without being a mother, my novel would have stuck stubbornly and 2 dimensionally to the flat page and would never have been published or made into a solo show. A host of brilliant women helped me back into work and into the world; my partner has given and gives tremendous encouragement and support too – though we still lock horns from time to time! Our kids are now 14 and 10. They’re great. It’s still a challenge; there are a few dark days here and there. I’m still frustrated by the imprisoning four walls, the cooking, the cleaning – the boredom. I ache for uninterrupted time so I can fully immerse myself in a long project. I rage at patriarchy and rail at misogyny – I discovered my inner Goddess was a fiery Feminist. My journey as a maker and a mother has been a hard one. It’s still a tough juggle. Working from home makes it tougher. Currently, I’m in a fallow field. Will I ever make again? I am A Fraud, you see – a non-artist, a some-timer, a dabbler as an ex once mocked after watching me dance at Sadler’s Wells. The truth is, being a mother taught me, inspired me, encouraged me, challenged me, allowed me to love myself and become a better human-being. Without children, I may have just destroyed myself. Motherhood gave me the kiss of life. Motherhood gave me the tools to survive. Motherhood empowered me.

words by Sarah Cameron

Sarah is an artist, performer, writer and mother. Born in Dundee, Sarah studied sculpture at Chelsea School of Art and theatre at Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris. Sarah has worked extensively in theatre and has collaborated for many years with Clod Ensemble; with whom she created The Red Chair (published by Methuen) an award winning solo show.

You can follow her on twitter and instagram @sarahcam3ron

Navigating Cultural Liminality: Private Rooms by Ghada Amer

Image result for ghada amer private room

Offering a critique of imperialist thought, Edward Said’s Orientalism created a paradigmatic shift in understanding the relationship between Western (Occidental) and non-Western (Oriental) cultures. Yet Orientalism still pervades mainstream representations of non-Western cultures, which oscillate between intense fetishization and demonization, often in almost the same breath. See for example Dalia Dawood’s description of the Aladdin remake, released this year, as ‘yet another example of Hollywood constantly misrepresenting the Middle East either as a barbaric place of war and terror or exoticised as one full of allure and belly dancers.’[1] Self-Orientalism, then, is when the East or non-Western individuals represent themselves through the eyes of the West, reflecting the unequal cultural relationship. Cross-cultural representation is therefore fraught with difficulties, and culturally liminal artists are often tasked – willingly or unwillingly – with negotiating these difficulties.

Ghada Amer was born in Egypt but moved to France at a young age where she was then educated, she now lives and works in New York City. This background places Amer firmly within the precarious culturally liminal zone. In Private Rooms (1998), Amer negotiates the danger of eliciting the Western desire for the culturally Other whilst simultaneously employing explicitly cultural material for Western art consumption. The piece explores the themes of culture and sexuality, both sites of intense Orientalist interest, further complicating Amer’s negotiation task in avoiding the pitfall of self-Orientalising.

Private Rooms is emblematic of Amer’s oeuvre in its use of embroidery, calligraphy and allusion to the female body. These material and visual techniques all speak in some way to Amer’s thematic concerns surrounding sexuality and culture; a sculpture comprised of fifteen suspended satin garment bags, dyed with rich saturated tones of blue, pink, green, orange and grey whose shape mimic the body of a woman in chador. The satin of the garment bags shimmer responsively to the light and are offset by the clinical white gallery walls. These material characteristics lend the piece a voluptuous beauty and life-like presence within the gallery space. On closer inspection, one will find embroidered across the satin garment bags all of the sentences that speak about women in the Qur’an, translated into French.

Embroidery

By using the medium of embroidery Amer participates in the tradition of feminist embroidery art which aims to elevate the medium of needlework, a medium which has been historically feminised and thus not considered a ‘high art’ form. Rozsika Parker aptly describes how embroidery ‘has provided a source of pleasure and power for women, while being indissolubly linked to their powerlessness.’[2]  We can see clearly how this consideration might be applied to the female body and sexuality, a site of both power and oppression. Thus, by applying embroidery directly onto the chador-like figures, Amer brings this allegorical comparison into sharp relief.  However, Amer complicates the Western focus of the feminist embroidery tradition. Whilst Amer’s use of embroidery has been discussed in reference to English sewing practices, we should note the historical Orientalist interest in oriental carpets that it also connotes. This complicates Amer’s allusions through embroidery because they come to represent not only the relegation of female arts, but also the Orientalist fascination with Eastern craft products, an interest which was served and perpetuated by an unequal system of cultural and economic imperialist relations.[3] Rather than reinforcing oppositional notions of Us and Them, Private Rooms through its use of embroidery unites diverse experiences of oppression which occur in both Western and Eastern cultures. Rather than using Eastern cultural imagery/material to cultivate an Orientalist sense of ‘authenticity’ or intrigue for Western art consumption, she situates her materials within a universal framework.

Calligraphy

Through use of the embroidered word, Amer makes reference to the calligraphic tradition which is so central to Islamic art. However, Amer interferes with the visual language of Islamic calligraphic traditions through her use of heavy-handed stitching, inclusion of loose dangling threads and use of capitalised roman script.[4]  This unorthodox use of the calligraphic medium reveals the possibility of operating within the aesthetic boundaries of a culture whilst inflecting it with a unique sense of identity. Another dimension is added to the calligraphic element of the work by the fact it represents words from the Qur’an: due to the special reverence for the Qur’an in Islam as being both miraculous and inimitable, this could be considered inherently subversive. However, within the Islamic tradition, once the Qur’anic word is translated it no longer possesses the uniquely sacred character of the Arabic original. Amer therefore simultaneously demonstrates cultural respect, or desire to avoid offence, by not using the original holy Arabic, whilst gently challenging the tradition by asserting her right to use and reflect upon the text (and to assert a specifically gendered reflection through the inclusion only of verses which refer to women). Thus, Amer demonstrates the ability to be simultaneously respectful and critical of a culture through her ambivalent use of the Qur’anic word. Furthermore, the use of translation foregrounds an important thematic concern: that of the inevitable translation effect in encounters between different languages, and more broadly, between different cultures.

Female Dress and The Female Form

Whilst not being a figurative piece Private Rooms is saturated with allusions to female dress and the female form. As Fereshteh Daftari perceptively observes, the loose threads in her embroidered works evoke ‘the reverse side of a highly finished sartorial item.’[5] As previously mentioned, the suspended figures evoke an image of chador clad Muslim women and the use of clothing bags as the primary material only serves to make this link more lucid. A multiplicity of meanings are latent within the sartorial body imagery of Private Rooms. The female form is symbolised as hanging lifelessly, as closed within a metaphorical chador, evoking a claustrophobia that is enhanced by the use of bags which create a symbolic double enclosure. This claustrophobic imagery is then further enclosed with textual embroidery. We must peel back many layers to reveal the physical body which lies beneath. In this way, Amer successfully reflects the layers of coded social meaning, as well as physical layers, which wrap the female body. This is particularly pertinent within the framework of the Western fascination for Islamic veiling practices, as well as revivalist Islamic movements’ emphasis on the same. Amer demonstrates how women are encased within sartorial expectations, as well as the weight of tradition. The Western art spectator adds a final layer of ideologically coded wrapping as they view the piece.

Even in her use of Oriental cultural material then, in this instance cultural sartorial material, Amer is able to avoid over-simplification by consciously questioning the layers of meaning which are piled onto the female form. Furthermore, she brings the Western art consumer into the process of meaning-making, encouraging them to question their complicity in the process of ideological entrapment of women in general, and Muslim women in particular. Additionally, the sensual beauty of the fabric and colours used in the piece act to offset the dark and heavy image associated with Islamic restrictions of dress and thus undermine Orientalist perceptions of the traditional Islamic woman.

Through her use of embroidery, calligraphy and imagery of the sartorial female form, in Private Rooms Amer presents a nuanced and sensitive vision of cultural difference. She avoids reasserting tropes from the ‘Occidental script’ and thus reinforcing oppositional notions of Us and Them. Instead she unites diverse experiences of oppression across cultures and undermines Occidental notions of Islamic womanhood in various ways such as through presenting diverse Qur’anic views on the subject. Furthermore, she universalises her materials, as can be seen in the use of embroidery, or shows the potential to adapt cultural material, as can be seen in her subversion of the Islamic medium of calligraphy. Importantly, she demonstrates consciousness of the Western consumer of her work, and consciously creates room for this viewing dynamic within the piece and in doing so takes control of this viewing dynamic: the very antithesis of self-Orientalising. The piece thus utilises Amer’s status as a liminal artist between cultures to bridge the cultural dichotomy between Us and Them rather than reinforce it.


Words by Alis Shea


[1] Dalia Dawood, ‘The new Aladdin film is shot in Surrey, but that’s the least of its problems’, Gal-dem (28 May 2019) http://gal-dem.com/the-new-aladdin-film-is-just-as-orientalist-as-the-last/ [accessed 24th October 2019].

[2] Laura Auricchio, ‘Works in Translation: Ghada Amer’s Hybrid Pleasures’, Art Journal (2001), p. 27. 

[3] Brian Spooner, ‘Weavers and dealers: authenticity of an oriental carpet,’ in The Social Life of Things, ed. Arjun Appaduri (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), p. 224.

[4] Fereshteh Daftari, ‘Beyond Islamic Roots: Beyond Modernism’, Anthropology and Aesthetics (2003), p. 177. 

[5] Daftari, ‘Beyond Islamic Roots: Beyond Modernism’, p. 177. 

Exhibition Review: Fifty Works by Fifty British Women Artists 1900-1950

In 2015, the novelist Kamila Shamsie issued a provocative call to arms to publishers: let’s make 2018 the Year of Publishing Women. What would happen, Shamsie asked, if publishers refused to publish any books by men during the centenary of women’s suffrage in 2018? In the end, only one publisher took up her challenge: the indie publisher And Other Stories, who published books exclusively by women in 2018.

Exhibition Review: Fifty Works by Fifty British Women Artists 1900-1950

Performance: Cleaning Her

Though conceptualised for the sculpture park in Graz, the performance piece Cleaning Her by Martina Morger was first executed in Glasgow’s Merchant City in 2018. In the run-up to the performance, the concept for Cleaning Her evolved to relate to the industrial past of Scotland’s largest city more specifically.

Performance: Cleaning Her

Disruptive craft in contemporary art: ‘A quilt is an art object when it stands up like a man’

‘Kalba’, MH Sarkis. Image courtesy of the artist.

There is a craft inclination in art that can put people at unease. It ebbs in popularity. Three years ago at an event at the ICA I was speaking to a sculptor who, when asked if they were still working on the same body of work, replied oh no, they only wrote now. It was one of several similar encounters I had, and whilst it can be common to move away from art after art school, we all seemed embarrassed that we had once been making. This idea was enforced by artists like Katrina Palmer, who moved from installation and sound sculpture, to published texts and plays. I’ve since been told in turning-point tones that Katrina Palmer is making objects again. 

Disruptive craft in contemporary art: ‘A quilt is an art object when it stands up like a man’