Caged Heat

Maple, copper, textiles

Caged Heat is a not at all subtle political artistic statement.  For Rae, politics was personal, and spiritual, and personal.  Some of you might recognize the title from a 1974 exploitation film about women in prison.

Since Rae server her time in 1973, and was still on parole in 74, it came at a time she was a bit sensitized to some of the stereotypes in this and other shows.  The basic idea is that if you put a bunch of women together in close confinement, lots of violence and sexual abandon will result.

Rae was always a sexual being.  She was an incest survivor as well.  And a feminist.  These things are not separate, but integral parts of her and a result of her life experiences.  Caged Heat is about the oppression, including self-repression, of the sexuality of women.  The heat is the sensual, sexual, generative power of the female body.  The cage is the Burka, Habit, Wedding Dress;  it is the shaming, the peer pressure, the law;  it is myth, story,  parable, custom; it is rape, abuse, mutilation.

The story is told with textile art, 7 small vignettes in embroidery and applique:
The story of Pandora
Woman as property, passing from father to husband, represented by the wedding dress and land title.
The biblical story of Eve
The Chastity Belt
Female circumcision
Heat-to-toe clothing
The Witch-burnings

The centerpiece is a large copper, um, well, see if you can figure that out yourself.  One little surprise for folks is the mirror inside the slit.  Rae even had a good reason for making it that size.  Take the more common size of female pudenda, get the ratio to a newborn head.  Now increase it so a fully adult head could fit through.

The cabinet the pieces fit in is made of slightly spalted maple.  Closed, it looks shrine-like, open vaguely lunar.  She was making a statement about organized religion, too. But the exterior of the cabinet also has some detail, she carved parts to appear that the wood was actually woven, like a basket, with some parts coming out, perhaps unravelling.  The message overall is that the heat will not be caged.

Rae was very fond of Caged Heat.  She even requested in her funeral instructions that it be placed on her wheelchair. And so we did, with 3 live rose plants, which we later planted out back at our house.

To end, here is in Rae’s own words her artist’s statement on Caged Heat:

Caged Heat

Women have long worshipped at the shrines of our own apocalypse.  The aspects of our horsemen are: Sin, shame, control, fear, temptress, uncleanness, vassal/vessel-hood.  This shrine represents these aspects, aspects that have caged our passions and actions on conscious and sub-conscious levels our interior lives.

These subtle and not so subtle stories, myths and practices have guided our actions, interfered in our relationships and even guided the laws and morals of many of our societies. And women have fallen prey to belief in these aspects.  We believe it of our selves, of other women, of our heroines.

Sin — in the figure of Eve, causing expulsion from the Garden of Eden

Shame — because Pandora released all the sorrows on to the world

Temptress — We cannot be left alone, we cannot be trusted, we can not control our own actions or bodies

Control — Her hair, her skin, and her body must be hidden so as not to tempt or be tempted

Fear — women might judge a mans ability, demand more from him or even seek her pleasures somewhere else, and there is always the fear — that she won’t offer him the best vessel for his pleasure

Uncleanness — Women bleed, we leak milk from our breasts and fluids from between our legs…

Vassal/vessel-hood — we hold the next generation, and we must be “protected” “wedded”  “bedded”…

Women have been reclaiming and struggling for their rights for the last 100 years.  For each step forward, weighted down by these stereotypes and myths, we are dragged back. In the form of backlash groups, woman to woman sexism, legislation, younger women redefining immediate past history, the ongoing ritualization of women’s lives, the lack of equality in almost every country in the world, the ongoing economic and employment sanctions/limits placed on us, etc.  And somehow, the majority of women still assume that the balance of power is still justified, that men still know more, understand more, are generally more trustworthy then other women, and so on.

This shrine was created within ritualized processes to make a change in the world.  With each stitch I visualized a world where women where respected, where we were valued for who we are and what we did, and we had equality.  Each image was created and researched to bring to light the myths that do effect the world view within many cultures.  The shrine was created as a form coming undone, while the vulva shape was created in a size that is of an equal ration to the human head — to symbolize the birthing of new ideas in adults.

These icon images were done in simple embroidery stitches.  Stitchery is an art form long used and perfected by women, and it has a long history of encouraging revolution.  It is also my first art form, begun around the age of 5 and continuing.

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