Self-inquiry and feminist DIY with Megan Whitmarsh

“Do I need to come to your workshop with unresolved feelings?” I asked Megan, an LA-based artist, and her gracious mother Dorothy during Megan’s opening at Raw Art Gallery in Tel Aviv. Megan Whitmarsh’s first solo show in Israel,  titled “Not New Just Changed (A New Time is No Matter)” and curated by Leah Abir, combines grounded feminist homage with loaded apocalyptic dreams, ambiguous time travel, and eco-sensual imagery in a soft-sculpture installation. The show features several series of works by Megan, as well as a large centerpiece that is a larger-than-life hand-embroidered replica of a Pastelegram art magazine issue the artist co-edited, and was funded by the Pastelegram non-profit organizaiton.

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Megan Whitmarsh, “Not New Just Changed (A New Time No Matter), at Raw Art Gallery, Tel Aviv, curated by Leah Abir. Photo by Lena Gomon.

As part of the exhibition, Megan led two participatory workshops with her mother, “Light on the Path”, which I would describe as a guided group self-inquiry meditation practice, and a “Feminist T-shirt Workshop”, which became a surprisingly familial affair on a Friday afternoon.

Megan’s large dream-journals embroideries were amongst my favorite pieces. They felt incredibly intimate and revealing without revealing anything.  Although the stories include detailed descriptions of real characters in Megan’s life, the distortion of time, space, and reality makes their plots too surreal for interpretation. On one hand, they read like vulnerable confessions, but on the other, they are totally illogical, abstract, and impermeable. The fabric that they are embroidered on look like giant, hanging pillowcases, and the writing itself retains a spontaneous and urgent just-got-out-of-bed feel despite the labored and thoughtful process.

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Apocalypse Dream Peach Tart, 2016, embroidery thread and fabric, 64x92cm

Pastelegram: “Women on the Edge of Time”

Patelegram is an annual publication that explores visual communities and the relationship between artworks and ideas. Their sixth issue,”Women on the Edge of Time”, which Megan co-edited, is dedicated to “crafting communities through time travel” and explores intersectional feminism through time, medium, and space. Megan brought a few copies with her to Israel, and although the publication was not an official part of the show and separately funded, it really enhanced my experience and understanding of Megan’s works as well as the creative community she operates within.

It starts off with a wonderful essay by Amanda Ackerman, Counting Backyards, where she discusses the female body’s ability (or inability) to inhabit not just physical space, but the present moment itself. Our bodies are constantly conceptualized as either a point of origin -“the infinite return” – or a vision for the future – “a body concerned with making the world better than what it currently is.” Stated in her own words, “the feminine is relegated to that which is not spatially-temporally here.”

Next Marisa Williamson charts the transition from “Here/Now” to “There/Freedom” in her powerful essay/poem Sally Heming’s Map to Freedom which begins:”Start where you are. Figure out what white people like. Figure out what white people like in black people.” Leah Modigliana writes a powerfully contemporary and relevant call and warming of a revolution in Sleeping on a Volcano: “Do you not hear them [the working-class] repeating unceasingly that all that is above them is incapable and unworthy of governing them; that the distribution of goods prevalent until now throughout the world is unjust; that property rests on a foundation that is not an equitable one?”

Other gems in this issue include Stretching with Amy SedarisCrystal Healing with Azalea Lee, and an essay on Menopause and Kundalini energy by Susun S. Weed. The publication itself is filled with small illustrations, diagrams, and quotes scattered throughout the text. Trinie Dalton’s El Jefe is a beautiful and personal meditation on the idea of god, and what it means to feel it inside of us:

God is not some sky-clad bearded dude in a robe. God is here and now, in me, with big everything – big tits, dick, hips, lips, hands, all enormous glad, busting with both exquisite bejeweled beauty and sour despicable ugliness… Why would women worship god as a man, why would queer people worship a god who isn’t gay; if god’s physicality is a metaphor for the energy that resides within each of us, why wouldn’t god mirror each of us, changeable and motley?…

Some nights I get off in the bubble bath, feeling multiple gods in every iridescent bubble. Thank you bubble gods for enveloping me in hot water and giving me a place to de-stress. Got not in eroticized taboo, but in my freedom of choice, my body. Kama sutra. I always suspected god was in sex and love, like tantra, leading us on a mandala-mapped road trip towards death.

Amen.

ewoeot

 

Light on the Path

  • Why do you care?
  • Why is it important to you?
  • Why does it matter to you?
  • What does it mean to you?
  • What are you really wanting?
  • What are you looking for?

These are the questions Dorothy asked us to answer in the “Light on the Path” workshop (the one to come to with unresolved feelings). We each wrote about something that “bugged us”, and at the beginning of the exercise, two people volunteered to share their dilemmas with the whole group.  Dorothy directed a question and answer activity that modeled the type of open-ended self-inquiry we were aiming at. Many of us chose to focus on issues regarding our parents or immediate family. It was both interesting and healing to watch people engage with their personal issues and share our process. There was an emphasis on reaching collective understanding rather than uncovering a practical answer. Dorothy described it very beautifully when she said, “as I ask you questions about your situation, your understanding grows at the same time that my understanding does”. Therefore, we reach mutual understanding and knowledge.

After two people shared openly, we silently wrote down our answers to the above questions. While the questions look very similar, their nuances are significant and may help you reach a better understanding of your true feelings and motivations when it comes to resolving an unpleasant situation. The biggest lesson I took away from the exercise is to practice non-attachment to other people’s transformations.

Later, we sat at a local bar and talked about the Quaker origins of the communal ritual we just participated in. Dorothy teaches peace and environmental and social justice at a Quaker school, and Megan is a member of a Quaker meeting in LA. Quakers gather in a decentralized religious and spiritual practice of sitting together in silence (or worship) and allowing each member to stand up and speak. They explained that the core values that guide their faith are what they call the “S.P.I.C.E.S.” of life:

  • Stewardship (mostly interpreted as environmental protection)
  • Peace
  • Integrity (“what is inside is reflected on the outside”)
  • Community
  • Equality
  • Simplicity

Their practice inhabits a belief that by sharing our personal truths within a community, a collective truth can emerge.

Feminist T-shirt Workshop

The Friday afternoon Feminist T-shirt workshop was a lively affair, with half the group comprised of 20-something-year-old women and the rest of multi-gender teenage kids with their awesome moms. Megan brought all of her best supplies as she demonstrated the various sewing and iron-on techniques she uses to create her T-shirts. She showed us some examples of past Tshirts she’s done and related imagery we can use as inspiration. I made a T-shirt with a cat condo illustration that said “PUSSY PALACE” and a grocery bag with some veggies that says “EAT IT”(so happy!). I even found time to make a little pin that says “NO.” (“No” is a complete sentence, ya know?). It was a really fun activity and a great opportunity for DIY radness. I could have continued making pins forever.

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A visitor’s truth-bombing T-shirt
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Megan Whitmarsh and Dorothy Henderson at the Feminist T-shirt Workshop

 

Megan Whitmarsh‘s “Not New Just Changed (A New Time is No Matter)” runs for another week at Raw Art Gallery, Tel Aviv until the 19th of November, on Shvil Ha’Meretz st. 3, Tue-Thu: 12:00 – 18:00 and Fri-Sat: 11:00 – 14:00.

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