The Exquisite Uterus Project: The Art of Resistance

by Alison Gates, photographs of artwork by Jason Houge

'Like a Flower,' by Clarice Zucker, Milwaukee, WI. "My obstetrician said, a post meopausal unterus was like an old sock! I said, "How about a flower"…and showed a Georgia O'Keeffe painting to him."

The images on this page are all Exquisite Uterii that are a part of the now traveling “EUP: Art of Resistance” Exhibition. The project was initiated in the spring of 2012 in reaction to the most current ‘War on Women.’ Artists and educators Alison Gates and Helen Klebesadel decided to offer feminists the opportunity to participate in this collaborative art project to channel some of the rage we were experiencing at the attacks on women’s reproductive health in this political environment, and to raise funds for women's reproductive health organizations. The response has been overwhelming. Plans are underway to create a fundraising catalog and to make it possible for others to participate in the digital part of this project. In the meantime you can find the fabric to participate here.

The original exhibition with new works from our call for EUII appears at Union Art Gallery, UW-Milwaukee, through October 11, 2013. Past exhibitions have been enjoyed at the Red Gym Gallery, UW-Madison, March 2013: Woman Made Gallery, Chicago, IL, January 2013; and our inaugural show, at the Steinhilber Art Gallery, UW-Oshkosh, September 2012.

Co-curator’s comments, by Alison Gates: One thing of the many unexpected pleasures of this particular show was reading the artist’s statements. I was personally struck by fact that so many of the artists involved, like me, seemed to harbor a love of not only reproductive freedom, but literature as well. References to written works abound – everything from novels to speeches, to in one case, historical published instructions on how suffragettes should dress. The uterus, it seems, lends itself to words as well as images when an artist gets her hands on it. I’ve selected a few images and included the statements. In many cases, the two together create a perfect unification of visual and verbal communication, one informing and enhancing the other. In other cases, the statement tells a story, or conveys in plain narrative the inspiration behind the object.

1) Suzanne Gonsales-Smith, Grand Fork, ND
"This art piece represents my struggle and success at overcoming infertility after a period of three years. It also is indicative to the discriminatory bias within my own academic profession aimed at women for desiring to have a family as well as a career...We professional, pre-tenure women are often thought of as not serious or dedicated enough...The photographs within the ovaries show evidence of the success of my journey with portraits of my twins."

2) 'Fruit of the Womb' by Ellen Rosewall of De Pere, WI. "The uterus resides in the area of the body known as the Sacral Chakra--the center of emotions, passion, sexuality & creativity. I have always been struck by the fact that all of us experience these even of only some of us use our uteri to birth daughters and sons. As women, we birth many things-art, projects, meals, gardens, students, ideas. This uterus symbolizes the inherent creativity all women possess, and honors what we birth...."

3) Deborah Gavel, Albuquerque, NM. “I am traveling and currently in a public library in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.  Synchronistically, my visit here is to celebrate my mother's 94th birthday.  I have been beading this piece while I sit with her.  It has been a perfect meditation to consider each bead the linage of my mother's womb.  Although I am foremost an oil painter, assemblage and collage artist, I initially began my undergraduate studies at Rhode Island School of Design in Apparel Design.  When I was a little girl my maternal grandmother would visit and sew for me.  I often sat next to her witnessing the process of her careful stitching.  Her mother, Minnie, also sewed, she was an incredible quilter.  As I worked on beading this piece, I looked over the careful stitches on one of the quilts my mother has saved.  I could not match the steady precision of her work nor come close to her level of patience. There was a different pace to the world then, a slower consideration of the moment that I hope to have touched into the process of taking time to bead.  We are forever indebted to our mothers for their maternal wombs.  We are, each one of us, born to an exquisite uterus, embellished with the cellular wisdom carried across time, like beads of glass on thread stitched by love.”

4) Stuff It, mixed-media with pins by Nancy Lamers, Theresa, Wisconsin. “My uterus is mine. At times, I have loved it. It held my children. At times, I have disliked it. It bled. But, the blood was velvet. The pins of pain hold me together. The pins each represent my egg in an ovary, a possibility. I am in charge of my body's possibilities. I make the decisions concerning my body. The pins also say, "Hands Off." Admire the beauty from afar. Don't get too close or you will get pricked.”

5) Artist Lisa Sikorski of Brooklyn, NY 'I sing the body Electric.' She shares two quotes "This is bath of birth-This is the merger of small and large, and the outlet out again. Be not ashamed women, your privilege encloses the rest, and is the exit of the rest, You are the gates of the body, and you are the gates of the soul." ~ Walt Whitman
"I celebrate the me yet to come. I toast to my own reunion, when I become one with the sun." ~Wade Lassiter

6) Karin Wolf, Madison, WI, I began my uterus the day it arrived in the mail.  I knew instantly that I wanted to adorn it with sequins in the style of a Haitian Drapo Voodou to signify that I am, indeed, a devotee of the exquisite uterus.  My stepchildren, ages six and eight, sorted a thousand multicolored sequins into muffin tins.  Being a novice sequiner, I began with the uterus itself, choosing to make a radiant all-American uterus from reds, and pinks, silver, and blue.  This project is a patriotic ode.  As soon as I was done with the uterus itself I realized my mistake.  I need more contrast between my uterus and the glittery golden sky.  I was paralyzed in an artistic quagmire of my own creation.  I rolled up my uterus and threw it in the bottom of an'Urban Outfitters' bag and waited for inspiration.  My uterus did not bejewel itself.  With a lack of contrast, the actual uterus blends into the yellow background like a subliminal femivision test.  I waited so long that finishing my uterus became an emergency.  We had to take it along to Ethiopian Culture Camp.  There was a huge cross by the fire pit.  I was worried of being judged, of being labeled the crazy-vodoo-uterus-spirit-flag-sewing-lady.  It has happened before.  "Oh, how beautiful, what is it?" they asked.  "Chicken,” My partner teased.  Easy for him to say.  He was not the one sitting under the shadow of a giant cross sewing sequins on his uterus for the entire world to see.  It was surprisingly hot beneath the supersized cross.  I walked to the edge of Geneva Lake and met a woman named Colleen resting below the protective arms of an old broad oak.  She pointed out her 19-year-old biological son and her six year old adopted one playing Frisbee together.  She wanted more children when her eldest was born.  At age 48, after invasive and expensive fertility procedures had not worked, she adopted a child from Ethiopia.  Now she has ovarian cancer and it is spreading about and the treatments are exhausting.  Ovarian cancer sucks.  I told her the truth.  Its not just any old abstract art project.  It s an exquisite (healing) uterus.  She saw it then.  We were quiet together.  I thought about my friend, mentor, and professor, Mimi Orner, who died of ovarian cancer (1959-2000).  She taught me and many others about the value of the exquisite uterus and the art of resistance.  I will always miss her.

7) Hanging by a Thread, mixed media, by Roberta Condon, Portage, WI. This piece shows the Gemini, mother of twins, with the words of “The Vagina Monologues” forming the texture of the background. The mop washes up blood, sweat, and tears that spring from our womb and souls as we struggle to bring these beautiful people into the world. My male children give the women they love freedom, and mark their accomplishments. They’ve seen my struggle, and love me, and I hope they’ll make good husbands.

8) Alison Gates, Appleton, WI
My own Bayeux Tapestry inspired Uterus. It says, in pidgin Latin: "Do not allow the bastards to grind you down." A nod to both Margaret Atwood's A Handmaiden’s Tale but also, a speculation on the Holy Grail and ... Well, Monty Python too!