My theme in printmaking this year has developed into a narrative about women bearing strength even as they feel vulnerable. It began with a simple figurine with her leg outstretched but her arms hugging her knee to her chest and the request, “hold me please?” I had created this image at a time of heightened confusion and loneliness in my own life, as a way to cope with several stressors that left me feeling isolated. As the semester went on, I came to see that faceless figure not as a woman isolated from others, yet standing alone and not realizing her power and vitality within herself.
For my book edition, I wished to demonstrate the process of women realizing their own being, expanding beyond the box that cultural “norms” and even negative thoughts from amongst themselves attempt to trap them in.
Hold (My) “Place”/Don’t Box Me In is an unbound accordion book, six pages of image and text featuring a woman stretching and developing beyond the confines of her “cage.”
I created this book by monoprinting a wooden texture with teal waterbased ink across a 9”x 40” stretch of Rives Heavyweight paper folded into 6 panels, each 6” x 9”, with tabs on each end 2”x 9”. I then silkscreened images of female figures in mulberry waterbased ink: some isolated, others with smaller mirrored figurines; some with hair, others bald, all bearing suggestions of facial shadows rather than definite features. Each of the silkscreened images is accompanied by a text label printed through Xerox transfer in green and neon yellow which indicates the woman’s stage in development, reflecting her personal thoughts about herself, her environment and her impact thereof.
The front cover features a closed and locked chest that reads “FRAGILE,” a smiling exotic dancer caged in a “sexy” yet uncomfortable position, and the title, Hold (My) “Place.” Syntax bears weight on the meaning of those words: “My” is in parentheses as a sort of fill-in-the-blank for whomever can categorize themselves as boxed in and also indicates that this book mirrors my personal struggles. “Place” is in quotation marks to imply that one’s current socioeconomic status and position in society is arbitrary; we are all “placed” in several different categories that supposedly make up our identities. The timid command from an encaged woman who asks and demands that her place, her “spot” be reserved, is reflected in the blending of the text into the page. The back cover, Don’t Box Me In, is a command from the woman after she has reached beyond what she expected herself capable of; the title and the caged woman blends more with the background, and the box is now open and empty. I continued this motif of blurred and blending text throughout the book.
Pages one through six describe a narrative of a woman growing and becoming. On page one, “In company yet Alone,” she sits up, hiding her face in her arms folded to hug her knees to her chest, yet accompanied by a smaller figure crouched in a fetal position nearby. I aimed to create a mood of despair and resignation to whatever unjust and unfit labels, burdens, miserable experiences, curses, or precarious situations life throws at us. She recognizes her trap and its seemingly insurmountable limitations on page two, “Occupied by one,” where she holds the bars of her cage. “Displayed exposed,” page three, shows another side of her, literally: We only see her back illuminated by a spotlight, her position similar to an accused person being interrogated or on trial. She is yet still introverted, timid and distrustful, but growing in personal confidence and finding her voice (the small figurine she is facing on the left). “Displayed” is crossed out and replaced by “exposed”, her choice to more adequately describe her physical and mental state and to express frustration. “They call her_____.” (page four) marks a turning point in the book, as she comes to see that others attempt to define her, but their labels and appellations do not carry any more weight to her person than she allows. The figure is crouched yet preparing to stand. Page five, “I am becoming…” is an assertion of her growth and development; she is becoming too large for the box she was originally placed in. Her story concludes yet begins with page six, where she stands cropped in a pose of confidence, unable to fit wholly on the page. Blurred in a block of text next to her is a list of respectable titles that women hold, from royalty to community leaders to family roles and motherhood.
Part of the issue in creating two accordion books with precision and as accurately replicated as possible is that book structure makes printing a bit difficult. Very few mistakes can be made without entirely altering the whole read of the images and text. I actually made three or four books with two final products, because after monoprinting both sides of my paper, it was much too heavy with ink and had not dried fully when I attempted to fold in for screenprinting. As a result, my first two books, which were most alike in terms of consistent wooden texture, stuck together and fell apart. The goof ups in monoprinting the second time, however, helped create visual interest in my backgrounds without distracting from the images. My struggle with Xerox transfer was not so much technical execution as it was color choice. The ink colors I choose often did not show up on the paper, which I found frustrating the most with the covers and with page six; I really wanted those titles to be clear to the reader, at first. Yet, since the heroine cannot be placed in a box, is it not better that the words are illegible? I encountered some difficulties in technical production of this book edition that worked out for the greater good of my theme.