“Do you know," Peter asked, "why swallows build in the eaves of houses? It is to listen to the stories.” ~ J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

4.19.2009

Suttee Gate 1

I've posted this image before, over a year ago,
but never talked about it.

I've almost sold it a couple of times, but it was probably overpriced so I still have it.  It will be part of my looming-ever-closer art show in early June - there is one change I will make & the price will be lowered.  I have done nearly nothing this weekend but continue to work on pieces, slather on backgrounds - layers & layers of paint & paper & gel & more paint & paper & more gel & stuff here & stuff there.  One piece is done, I think - I will have to look at it the rest of the day before I decide.  But truly, the part I like best is this background art, this no-object/no-message part, which is, ironically, really what the pieces are about.  Stillness, but stillness surrounding actions.

The piece above - Suttee Gate 1 - was inspired by a book I read every summer, and have been reading every summer for years & years - The Far Pavilions by MM Kaye.  It is a book about India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, set in the mid 1800s.  A wonderful book, a sprawling, epic novel,  as they say - full of history & romance & pictures painted with words.  It was a time in India when the act of suttee had been outlawed by the British, but in this book was still practiced in some places.

So first, the definition: "suttee: the act or custom of a Hindu widow willingly being cremated on the funeral pyre of her husband as an indication of her devotion to him; also: a woman cremated in this way."

Second, just a bit from the book: " . . . presently they came to a narrow gateway cut through the thickness of the palace wall. It was an unobtrusive gate, barely wide enough to take two people walking abreast, and decorated with a curious formal pattern that on closer inspection proved to be made up of the prints of innumerable slender hands, the hands of queens and concubines who down the long centuries had walked through that gate on their way to the fire and to sanctification." 

Just a bit, as I said.

The idea of suttee is mentioned several times in the book, foreshadowing coming events, and even the gate is mentioned, but it was this  bit that got to me.  I could just see those tiny henna-ed hands softly placed against that wall, leaving for eternity that message "I was here, I passed through this gate", some of these hands belonging not to grown women, but to young girls.  It killed  me when I read that description.  I've never gotten over it - I began to use handprints in my artwork, and for years tried to paint a suttee gate - my God, what a thing! - but I just could never get there.  It signified so much to me.   Not just the literal gate - it was also that following-your-husband-no-matter-what idea.  Please don't misunderstand.  In my life I am surrounded by strong women, smart women, self-sufficient women, but I have also known women - or known of  women - whose lives were dictated by their husbands' lives, by their husbands' fortunes or lack thereof, by their husbands' cruelty or infidelity or disappearance when times got tough.  I think of my grandmother trapped in a horrible marriage by lack of money, by too many children - a marriage she made in her mid 20s, under family pressure to avoid being an "old maid".  These women's lives, my grandmother's life, seemed not much different to me.  I still get chills down my spine when I read those words; my chest becomes tight, and I must remind myself to breathe.

And so, the piece pictured above.  I made it about 3 years ago - maybe 2.  I just suddenly knew what to do, how to do it.  I wanted that stillness, and I wanted all those hands.  When I signed it on the back, I also left my  handprint.  When I am rich and famous and have my own art studio/gallery, I will have a show with a gate one must pass through.  I will let the women leave their handprints on that gate - only the women, because I want them to feel that separateness.  And because they  will feel it, so will the men.  The idea stays with me, I feel it in my bones, I feel the underside of my skin shake ever so slightly.

That is why Suttee Gate .  There will be a 2.  Probably a 3.

18 comments:

  1. Randi - Thank you so much. It's much appreciated.

    WUL - And thank you. It feels powerful to me also, and in fact, makes me think other pieces I have are not "deep" enough. Sigh. It's hard to allow myself to just play with pieces sometimes, to understand that some pieces are lighter than others. Today is a lighter day, with bird & joy mixed-media works. Yin & yang.

    :) Debi

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  2. Oh! Look at all I miss when I disappear for a few days. I do hope you will put a copy of this post in a little pocket on the back of this piece of art. The art itself if beautiful. But, when you read this post. Astounding.

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  3. Relyn - I will! Absolutely! I'd thought about, in addition to the usual little blurb that usually hangs next to the artwork, with the price, size, media, etc., also hanging a little tale, a small story about the piece, or how it came to be, or just how it made me feel. Much as I do here. You've made me think even more that may be a good idea! Thank you!

    :) Debi

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  4. astonishingly moving

    your art piece

    well I wish I could have that
    in my home

    it is provocative and utterly
    alive

    where is your show?

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  5. Maddie - It is here, one night only, June 11. A local coffee shop. I knew you would understand this piece. :)

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  6. Powerful work. Powerful words. Very moving. It stands on its own very well but the addition of the words makes it even more special!

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  7. Karen - Thank you so much. If I could sign this with a handprint, I would.

    :) Debi

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  8. Very intriguing. Powerful and provocative as others have said. I'm drawn into it.
    Blessings.

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  9. Sonia - I'm so glad you stopped by for a visit. Thank you, and blessings to you also.

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  10. Debi,

    I absolutely love your idea of a writing with each piece. I can just picture them handwritten in pale blue ink on lovely white rag paper.

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  11. Awesome piece! I'm intrigued by this! Very moving story.

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  12. Relyn - I hadn't thought about handwriting them. That's a cool idea, if I have time. If I'm in a hurry, my handwriting is pretty wild! :)

    Valaine - Thank you. I cannot imagine living in such a world, a world where you are trapped simply because of your sex. We are so lucky.

    Debi

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  13. Stevie - Thank you for the visit, and for the very kind words!

    :) Debi

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  14. Wow. What can I say that hasn't been already said? Powerful was the word that came to mind, and something I will now never forget. Your piece is such a wonderful tribute to this moving story.

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  15. usually i have a lot to say, but your art, your gift, your words ~ i am speechless and very moved ...
    thank you for sharing this ...
    xxo
    pg

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