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Reflection of my sculpture

Joie Rose's picture



           This sculpture was an attempt to comment on the ways in which the reproductive rights of cis women and trans individuals in prisons are denied in atrocious, violent ways that also breed a denial of basic human rights. The body of the sculpture is meant to be a vessel for the many identities that I was commenting on, cis women who are pregnant, cis women who are not pregnant, trans women, trans men, trans men who are pregnant, non binary individuals, and trans individuals who are in various stages of transition or who do not transition. Initially I had hoped to also encapsulate an element of the added human and reproductive rights violations that people of color experience at much higher rates than white individuals in prison, but I also began to question the ways in which white individuals are often left out of conversations around prison abolition in the same ways that trans individuals and cis women are. I do not mean to belittle the reality that white people, on a whole are much safer and do not experience institutional violence the way that people of color, in particular black people do, but I wanted to add identities to the conversation that are not usually spoken about, to expand the conversation to be able to hold all identities in all of their intersections instead of narrowing the conversation.      


            The words that I carved into the body are all words that cis, pregnant women and trans individuals used to describe their experience holding those identities in prison. I used the stories of the atrocities that inmates with these identities faced to illustrate, quite starkly, the violations that pregnant, cis woman, and trans inmates face.  The numbers that I carved into the body were numbers that correlated to a letter of the alphabet depending on its place in the alphabet and the letters spelled out YES AND. I had hoped that I could appropriately illustrate this idea through the way the sculpture was the patchwork product of many identities, both connected at times, and disconnected at other times, in their many threaded intersections. Finally the barbed wire was partially a cop-out because I didn’t have time to pursue my original idea of casting hands to place over the belly, and partially a way to make it inescapably evident that this sculpture is commenting on the existence of these identities in prison.


            It is incredibly difficult for me to speak to what I learned during this process. There were so many layers of learning that went into this sculpture, the first being that my expertise lies in clay, and I really shouldn’t assume I could attempt a closed cast in the time frame I had. But on another note, it has been a long time since I could confidently express my thoughts through sculpture, and every time I have been able to, it was always a bit of a surprise. This sculpture definitely surprised me, it came out almost exactly the way I had hoped it would. Usually I begin with an ideal image of what I want to create with the understanding that it is probably going to turn out just short of the ideal image in my head. But somehow, with the miracle of five consecutive hours in the sculpture studio, two different attempts at creating something sturdy, and really excellent music to rock out to, I had the body of a pregnant individual with two breasts, a neck, a collar bone, and a back that was almost exactly how I had envisioned it. It was simply a matter of trusting my ability not to fuck it up after that, and of course to refine, refine, refine. And that worked pretty well for me. Additionally, while I have been flexible and patient with my art previously, I think I garnered a renewed sense of flexibility and patience with this project. The core concept never changed, but the representation, the final display and the different ideas that went into it changed many times, and that was all okay. For one of the first times, my ideas were as forgiving as the clay I work with.


            Did I accomplish what I set out to do? I think so, perhaps not in the way that I set out to do it, but it reinforced the idea that I have always held that art can work to be more than just something to look at. It can be an experience that speaks to worlds outside your own, can comment on difficult and volatile topics, and can be a force of change. And most importantly, I can be a catalyst for that. One of the things that has become abundantly clear to me this semester is that I don’t have to wait for some landmark in my life to be a person that does something real in the world. I can have a voice that says something real and important even though I don’t have my diploma yet, and despite my age, or perhaps because of my age, despite the many things I have not experienced but because of the many things that I have experienced. I can do that with art, no matter what form it takes, be it sculpture or dance, or poetry or prose. And isn’t that what college is supposed to imbue in you? The notion that, accountably, you can…