Last summer, I met a brilliant young artist who took my then-nascent idea of visualizing female sexual desires seriously enough to sit down and have a few conversations about it with me. Specifically, he wanted to know how I felt, now that I had started collecting the desires of women, and becoming the guardian, as it were, of these responses. At the time I simply brushed aside his question, but now that I am confronted with the generosity of the women who have confided in me their sexual desires, albeit anonymously, Miguel's question has come back to me quite forcefully. Yes, indeed, I keep asking myself these days, what exactly am I going to do with what these women have entrusted to me?
I guess it was inevitable that I would get to this point, where I had enough responses to begin figuring out the form that this visual art project would take. Should I simply recite what these women had shared, I wondered. Or should I do something else? Something more visual? After all, wasn't that the whole point of the project to visualize female sexual desires? The truth is I do not have answers as yet to some of these questions. But the more I keep asking the questions, the more sense my earlier visual art work -- focused around flowers -- begins to make to me.
For many years, as both a writer and a visual artist, I ran away from the flower. The very idea of the flower was too easy, too obvious, I thought, and, of course, there were already all those allusions to women and flowers in the arts that seemed to leave no room for anything new. But the more I ran away from the flower, the more this image kept after me until I could no longer outrun it. So much so that today, to explain my engagement with the flower, I share this phrase with friends: I am a flower trapped within a woman's body.
The fact is, nothing gets me absolutely as transfixed as a flower does. I can look at flowers for hours and hours at a time. In some ways, it's hard for me to explain what flowers do for (and to) me -- how they transport me to other worlds, how they complete me. Now I'm beginning to see that, all along, my flower portraits were stand-ins for the more explicit work I am now doing: engaging female sexual desires.
The wonderful writer and artist Earl McKenzie has said, "As a schoolboy I once climbed a coconut tree at night with a flashlight to see if the blossoms corresponded with the drawing of them I had just done ... I was gratified that I was not too far off the mark and slept well that night." I understand only too well why he would do such a thing. The renowned photographer of flowers, Harold Feinstein, once said, "In teaching photography, my basic instruction is 'when your mouth drops open, click the shutter!'" For the years I worked on my flower portraits my mouth kept dropping open. Now, my mouth keeps dropping open at what the women have shared so far in the Female Desires Project, some of which goes on for pages and pages.
So why not the flower?
Indeed, the more I use these monthly posts to think further and deeper about this female desires project, the more I come back, as if in a charmed circle, to earlier manifestations of my work. Take the summer I spent in the "floating" city of Venice, Italy, for example. How taken I immediately was with this strange world! Water always about. How images in the water would shift and change and become distorted, endlessly becoming something else; a large luminescent kaleidoscope Venice was to me.
It so happened that I was in Venice to attend art school and when we students all settled down after studio spaces were assigned, and I finally got down to working, I started simultaneously -- and almost obsessively -- painting, drawing and photographing two subjects: the female figure and flowers.
As I look back on those earlier works I am now struck by the obvious sensuousness of the paintings, drawings and photographs. I see them now as my beginning exploration of female sexuality, which I recognize as a specific form of personal power. Now, instead of running away from it, I can embrace the flower, still recognizing it as, yes, an allusion and a stand-in for a voice and images I am still in the process of discovering, but also possessing beauty, strength, fragility and mystery in its own right.
Miguel was right all along, it turns out. I've become the keeper of the considered responses of the women who have taken the time to lend me their voices and their visions in this work that I am doing. But I am glad to be the guardian of what these women have to say, even if at times what they have to say is quite painful to hear. My female desires project has been a fascinating journey, so far. Like you, dear reader, I am intrigued to see where next it will take me.
Until next time.
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