Updated: Apr 22
Making the invisible visible and vice versa
Yikes! Late December I reached an existentialist crisis point. I realised that I had a lot of fear about being able to perform and study both mentally and physically with my complex health conditions. Most days I’m walking and thinking through treacle. Its’ part of my condition, I accept that, albeit grudgingly. If I stumble, fall or faint, I even joke that I’m being visited by the ‘witch of gravity.’ I now have a heart monitor (USB in my boob) so I swing between the notion of embracing this new super heroine fembot status, or the alarming worry (despite reassurances) it may cause my cells to mutate into something toxic and beastly. What don't kill you makes you stronger has never felt quite this tangible. I am also stressed about having to resort to using a walking stick eventually. How could I perform again? Achieve a Masters? Who was I kidding? I’m an imposter! Till it came to me that I should try to do something empowering and make my own walking stick! My Spanish grandad had one made out of Silver Birch and my father from Barbados who died last year of a heart attack also had one, which he mostly used to threaten unruly youths who tried to rob him of his plantain. So I could make one and even if it was unusable it could still serve as an artefact. After I mused on my lack of woodwork skills and gravity, one of my tutor's suggested I draw a walking stick.
Ok, I’m not an ‘artist’ in that respect. The mathematical element of proportion is sadly and often hilariously missing from my skill set. I am very short sighted and have recently become long sighted with field of vision complications. BUT I do love to draw, especially magical women. I collected all my spectacles around me. I sat down and successfully stared at a blank page for an awful long time, until it dawned on me, that actually, my walking stick was as invisible as my illness often is! I started to remember the purpose of my fine arts research project was to explore the benefits of otherness by finding power from disempowerment. I thought of my mother, of witches, of Yoko Ono holding an art exhibition in the 1970s that contained no art, its sole purpose to promote peace with the release of Happy Xmas (War is Over) later that month. And then she visited me, I clumsily drew my very own perfectly imperfect ‘Invisible Illness Witch’, her face invisible to the world, but still riding high.
I've always been an admirer of French Painter Albert Joseph Penot's gothic portrayals of macabre nudes, with his infamous 'Departe pour Le Sabbat' (1910) being my favourite. In fact, I drew a stylised mural of it on my living room wall a few years back. If you google images of witch broomstick art Penot's is one of the most infamous and you will also see how many artists since have created their own reworks of his work so the above is my queerly made version. And naturally, she is brown like moi. Whereas Penot's focus was painting anatomically correct women, not being a skilled painter myself mine are clearly not. I was thinking of trying to correct my failings but I sensed that actually this is my 'ability'. We are all not atomically correct or perfectly proportioned (whatever that means) or perfectly abled. Besides I liked, no I LOVED, the imperfect nature of what I had summoned up. I had drawn the witches face originally but had gotten cross with its progress and my impatient fatigue, so I scribbled her hair over it, first furiously, then tenderly to instil a sense of self care erasing my frustration. I needed to be kinder so I drew out the tendrils more peaceably.
Once I finished my sketch I could see that her face was meant to not be visible, at this stage anyway. I then recalled a sketch I love by my friend and artist Gaynor Perry 'How Do I Get Elephants to Stay' (2013). Perry drew a woman sitting on an elephant, her hair also covering her face. I felt that my invisible illness witch too, in the process of flying a broomstick and hiding her face, revealed hidden symbolism and meaning surrounding her otherness, not just for her otherworldliness, but also in attempting to defy shame and stigma (disguised as gravity) in my image.
BUT. I needed my invisible illness witch to fly more. To make her face visible. Actually I wanted to fly too, wouldn't you? But how? I started contemplating about how I could achieve this without hallucinogenics. Wise women and seers would place would rub psychedelic herbal ointments and salves on brooms and sat astride them sky-clad. This resulted in a sublime orgasmic sense of flying. This extraordinary spirit-sexual process of female phenomenological empowerment is at the heart of our potency for creativity in releasing witch energy magic from the inside out. I had recently started reading a magical little book by Neil Gaiman called 'Why Art Matters' illustrated stunningly by Chris Riddle, each page dedicated to a sketch and words about the importance of creating art. It's almost like a comic book, but somehow more meaningful and fancier in my opinion. Not that I'm knocking comics, I'm a huge Elfquest fan and in particular worshipped my childhood misty comics.
Misty comics were supernatural stories for Girls which mostly featured all manner of moral lesson-based ghost stories where bad girls became hideous monsters and good girls were rewarded freedoms. Curiously, many of the stories featured witchy women drawn in very erotic poses inevitably informing my young mind that they were to be seen as desirable and dangerous (as long as they keep their youthful body parts on display). In October, our research methods tutor Danielle took us to Oxford to see the witch exhibit 'Spellbound' at The Ashmoleum. The emphasis this time was that witches are dangerous old hags with saggy boobs spitting venomous jealous spite at all and sundry. Having just celebrated my...er...100th Birthday in January I am going through perimenopausal hell. I guess that makes me especially dangerous as all my alluring and youthful sparkling glitter is shedding to reveal a batty old ill tempered crone. AND with problematic flesh (allegedly). As I mused on my invisible illness again, this time in the form of a now middle aged witch child still trying to adult, I saw my muse, the invisible illness witch, journeying through silver birch trees, her face hidden, and she was trying to find a cure. But the cure wasn’t for the ‘other’, the sick, the ugly. It was for societies gaze upon us. She was now visible. So, here is a work in progress zine I made for her to fly for us. Behold! The Invisible Illness Witch!
Ride with love x