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Every time I get off the elevator on the seventh floor of Mt. Sinai Hospital, I’m greeted by painted chipmunks and bunny rabbits frolicking on the walls. Usually I’m with a woman who is deep in labour. When we pass this Disneyesque scene, I’m always struck by the absence of imagery that is relevant to a woman’s experience. If we as a society can’t imagine giving birth, how do we expect to? 

Marion Woodman, a Jungian analyst and author, speaks about the re-emergence of the Feminine in the dreams and lives of the men and women she works with. The image is the means for energy to express itself in the world. In the natural impulse for wholeness, dreaming is the first step. Receiving our dreams and nurturing them, we become what we imagine, what we move, what we speak. Marion says, “The images we assimilate…are as important to our well-being as the food we eat…” 

Hungry for visions, I made my way down to the Textile Museum one recent rainy night. I was eager to see what I witness in the ordinary course of my life be reflected in art. It was the opening of  ‘When Women Rule the World: Judy Chicago in Thread’ and ‘She Will Always Be Younger than Us’. The exhibit runs from February 11th to September 7th, 2009. Judy is an artist best known for her groundbreaking sculptural installation, ”The Dinner Party’ , a revisioning of women’s place, quite literally, in Western civilization. ‘The Birth Project’  continued her exploration of  female iconography. She used the traditionally female skills of needlecraft to create work shown within the male context of “high” art. It was these pieces which drew me. 

To be present with her work is a sensual experience. Having seen much of  it reproduced in books, I wasn’t expecting the play of texture that is absent in photographs. Hundreds of women did the stitching and crocheting of the pieces and I could feel this. The technical precision was exquisite and through it, the passion of so many women was woven. But it was the light that moved me most.

I walked into a room where ‘Earth Birth’, an enormous tapestry, hung. It was made of quilted black velvet and silk, subtly painted in shades of midnight blue. It showed a woman lying on the ground as waves of vibrations moved through her, the earth, the air and the rising or setting sun. What resonated through her was light. It shone out of her mouth and vagina and the ends of her nipples. In her flesh was light. In the earth was light. In the darkness was light.

Was this an image of Death or Life? In the Feminine, they are one. When we give birth, we pulse to the rhythms of the universe.  When we’re sitting at our laptops, we do too; it’s just not usually so obvious. Birth is Yoga and Yoga is Tantra. The root of the word means ‘to stretch’ or ‘to continue without a break’, and refers to the warp in a piece of fabric, the threads that run lengthwise through a piece of cloth. Tantra understands that the light of life runs through everything. Judy does too.

Orly Cogan  is one in the current generation of artists who merges the medium and the message. In ‘She Will Always Be Younger than Us’ , Orly uses embroidery techniques found in old nursery and household linens to portray issues in contemporary women’s intimate lives. Her work is a strong and layered statement on the power dynamics in domestic life and the infantalization of women’s sexuality.

Which brings me full circle to Bambi and birth. If you are pregnant, or hope to be some day, let the light of your imagination lead the way. To give birth is to participate in the greatest transformation of energy possible. In birth’s shadow, nuclear physics is child’s play.