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Picturing a World

Sisterhood and creativity

I try to keep these posts short and connect you to something you might use. This one is longer because, on this anniversary of the Trump inauguration, I’m pulling together several things to help myself move through and beyond the grimy, depressing aspects of the present day to something life-enhancing. I hope it helps you, too.

First, sisterhood: Reports on the Women’s March redux is enheartening. In the era of #MeToo, it’s good to focus on women’s worth—enlightened male companions welcome. We must also remember that it’s not just sexual predation that is an issue. I was interested to read in the January 12, 2018, Guardian, that “[a]fter 2017’s Cambridge Companion to Irish Poets included only four women, 250 writers have agreed to boycott anthologies, conferences and festivals where women are not fairly represented.”

Second, Ali Smith’s novel Autumn—a short, astonishing read. It catches a lot about what’s wrong with the world after Brexit and Trump. When the main character, Elisabeth Demand, is reading up on a political scandal from the 1960’s, Smith writes, “She hadn’t known that proximity to lies, even just reading about them, could make you feel so ill” (p. 225). But it also embodies the joy and energy of art, including its use of the largely forgotten Pop artist, Pauline Boty, and the exuberance of women cutting loose to do what they really want even while men set up security chain-link fences.

Third, via a post by Terri Windling, Away with the Birds, I learned about the multimedia artist, Hanna Tuulikki and have begun exploring her website, Away with the Birds/Air falbh leis na h-eòin. Tuulikki has taken Gaelic songs that incorporate imitations of birdsong, mostly shore birds, as the basis for extraordinary music of her own, including the performance piece for women’s voices that is the focus Away with the Birds.

One segment is based on a keening song that was sung by professional female mourners at a death; that caoin was itself based on the cry of the common redshank, “Gradually,” writes Tuulikki, in commentary on her piece, “… the custom of keening at funerals died away, or, to be more accurate, it was submerged, for it can still be heard, for instance, in laments played on bagpipes. There is a discernable shift, from the keen, traditional domain of women, to the lament, in the stewardship of men. When the singer and piper, Calum Johnston, recorded the Pil-il-iu song …, he said that his singing was in imitation of bagpipes.” In other words, women imitated the birds. Bagpipers imitated the women. Male singers imitated the bagpipes. And now Tuulikki takes us full circle back by reclaiming women’s imitation of birds and the birds themselves.

A different, utterly strange and wonderful, short performance piece, Red Bird, Red Bird captures Tuulikki’s non-traditional use of sound and image to connect art-making, exploration, mystery, and nature.

I had to interrupt writing this post to attend a public forum on short-term rentals, an issue in the small town where I live, because, yes, we need to participate in local politics. But, what I find so exciting in all the creativity I’m looking at today is what comes when we engage in what we really care about. We see the world anew, we explore, and we make it safe for each other to expand and grow

Artists and sisters of all stripes, take heart! It matters what we do no matter how large or small our audience. Write poetry, choreograph an unexpected dance, paint pictures that burst with life, weave, knit, run for public office, and, above all, tell your stories. It keeps the honest heart free.
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