by Clara Lieu
For the past few months, I’ve been making graphite drawings on tissue paper of elderly figures. (see above) Unlike my past projects, I had no idea what these drawings were about as I created them. I thought that if I worked on these drawings long enough, their purpose would eventually emerge. I was right.
I haven’t written anything in reaction to the U.S. presidential election results because I felt paralyzed and helpless. However, as a visual artist, I can speak with images when I have no words.
Over the past week, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the generations of women who came before me: what they have seen, what they have heard in previous decades.
An older friend of mine told me that she couldn’t watch the TV show Mad Men because the blatant misogyny portrayed on the show was exactly she actually experienced in real life.
My older sister told me that she recently read the book Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World. My sister told me that she had no idea the shocking obstacles Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor had to confront in their careers because of their gender.
Last year, I read A Fighting Chance, Elizabeth Warren’s autobiography. She worked so hard under extremely trying circumstances to earn a college scholarship, but then left college to get married. During that time period, that’s what women were expected to do.
Then last week, I watched Hillary Clinton put herself together after a crushing defeat and give a concession speech with utmost class, respect, and grace.
Despite their scars, these women got back up, stood up, and kept walking.
I didn’t plan the gender of the figures in my elderly drawings in advance. Perhaps not coincidentally, all of the elderly figures I’ve drawn so far have been women.
After the election, I looked at my drawings with a different set of eyes.
I realized that the physical tears in my drawings are not about the physical frailty of old age as I initially thought they were. The drawings are not about my fear of mortality, or about the deterioration of the human body in the last stages of life.
The rips in my drawings are the scars that older women walk with every day. Generations of women have been torn to shreds, marginalized, in more ways than I can fathom. Through my drawings, I want to show that despite these harrowing experiences, these women still put themselves back together and kept walking forward. I hope in this time of unrest and uncertainty, that I can be as strong as they are, and that I can teach my two daughters to do the same.
I have always felt that throughout history, art is an inherent reaction to cultural and historical context. Kathe Kollwitz’s works were a direct response to World Word II, Leon Golub’s paintings were his reactions to the Vietnam War. Even artworks that have nothing to do with the world events are still a reaction to the time period they were created in.
As one person, I cannot affect government legislation the way the lawmakers do, and I do not have the skills to foster positive change the way many brave activists do every day. I will however, make images that matter and react to the world we live in. As a visual artist, that’s a responsibility I haven’t tried to deliberately embrace before.
Starting today, I will.
A Burst of Artistic Inspiration for the First Time in 2 Years
Anticipating a New Drawing Project
Drawing Again After a Two Year Drought
Teaching Through My Artwork
Drawing Experiments: Layered Drawings
The Tug of Thumbnail Sketches