Friday, February 26, 2010

Representing the self (by Suzie)

I thought of Frida Kahlo as I lay in the hospital, drawing myself. I was hospitalized for a week, nowhere near as long as Kahlo. Nor is there any comparison in talent – I’m no artist.

I thought of "The Broken Column," how she depicted her body in pain. Drugs and discomfort splintered my sleep until I fell into a dream of love and comfort. I didn't want to forget those feelings. If I could draw the dream, I thought, maybe it could lead me back to the dream world.

Last week, I wrote about the musicians in the Arts in Medicine program at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. An artist also came to my room with paper, pencils, pens and paint. Showing perspective was too hard, almost 40 years after I had taken an art class. I thought of the flat symbolism of the folk art that inspired Frida and convinced myself that I could draw something meaningful to me, even if it had no other merit.

I became a child again, delighting in the colors, coloring, coloring, coloring in the midst of the medical world. I drew my dream. I drew myself better.

When I was a teenager, some boys taunted me, calling me a witch. Sometimes I still see with their eyes when I look in a mirror or see a photo of myself. Too often I judge myself by society's impossible beauty standards. I’m grateful for good photos, and the sketch above, as if I needed evidence of my worth.

In the early '90s, Israeli artist Yaacov Agam came to Tampa to inaugurate a fire-water fountain. He took my notepad and sketched me before continuing with a brief interview. I use that sketch as my Gravatar now.

I agree with poet Muriel Rukeyser: “No more masks!” to hide the experiences and feelings of women. But a mask (or avatar) I choose myself – my own art or photo, or someone else’s – can express something, or capture an aspect of myself, that I want to remember or the world to know. As a feminist, I believe in the strength of self-representation. Perhaps someday it will quiet the misrepresentations in my head.