Saturday, December 13, 2014

Holding Things Together

Basically, things are holding together. We're trying to get to the end of the semester and the beginning of school vacation and to the last round of the presidential elections, which coincide, interestingly enough. Thankfully, the first truly democratically elected Parliament in Tunisia has begun to function. As soon as a president is elected, a government will be formed by the majority party, "Nida Tunis." There is, of course, some urgency, as it feels like we're adrift on a rudderless boat for the moment.

Consequently, in the spirit of things holding together and holding things together, I stitched up a sketchbook/journal. The idea of a sketchbook as a holding place, a Memory project, pleases me. I could complain about the limited availability of good art supplies, however, I did manage to find rather heavy (224g/m2) Canson paper in packets (24x32cm/9.5"x12.5") at the beginning of the school year. I unabashedly admit that I bought ten packets. And that felt like luxury. 

Apart from the paper, I made do with materials I found at home. I made two covers by gluing 3 pieces of recycled lightweight cardboard together for each cover. Then I painted 4 sheets of Canson paper with watercolors, which I glued onto the covers. 

I folded my Canson paper in half to make the pages and stitched it all up. 
For sewing, I used a thin cotton string that I waxed by running over a piece of bee's wax. Fortunately, there are some good instructions on Youtube. The inside covers gave me a chance to play with the bits and pieces of leftover painted paper.

I LUV my new sketchbook/journal. 
It satisfies my soul in every way.
Yes, I'd say that we're holding things together with style! 

NB: Blogger has insisted upon inserting the annoying word verification despite the fact that my "Show word verification?" setting says "NO". I suppose I'll have to shoot off an email to Blogger. My apologies for the inconvenience of the word verification--the technology is wonderful when it works, but, when there's a glitch, what a pain in the neck....

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Further Entanglements

Happily, parliamentary elections in Tunisia (October 26th) went smoothly and the outcome was not disastrous. "Nida Tunis" (the Call for Tunisia), which groups the major center and leftist parties, won 86 seats out of 217, while the religious part won 69. Although "Nida Tunis" does not have a majority, it appears that they will be able to work with other small parties to form a government.

The first round for the presidential elections on November 23rd went relatively smoothly as well. However, the results were rather surprising. While the "Nida Tunis" candidate, Beji Caïd-Sebsi, garnered slightly over 39%, the current president, Moncef Marzouki, managed to get 33% of the votes. As the pre-election polls had shown him at less than 2%, one can only conclude that the religious party threw their weight behind him since they did not have a candidate in the running. 

The run-off elections would be December 14th, if nobody contested the results of the first round. However, Marzouki registered 7 complaints at the last minute of the 3-day filing limit in a bid to buy time (sore looser). This now has to go to court. Elections will be no later than December 28th.

In the meantime, the country sinks into limbo as there is no real governmental authority in this transition period. The school where I teach reflects the state of the country--it feels like we're on the edge of chaos. I can't remember having such a difficult teaching job. And yet, students and teachers keep plugging along with a certain amount of courage...

Sometimes I wonder if my work isn't a direct reflection of my distressed environment. I have coveted a jeans bag for a long time and so made one from a tall stack of old jeans that I can't bear to throw out. I love working on the soft blue and white of the old fabric. I stitch from the top and only catch the upper threads, so the denim is not tedious to work.
It's looking like Tunisia's future--entangled. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Memory in Memory

A couple of days ago, it was my Tunisian sister-in-law's birthday. Affectionately called Tata (diminutive for "aunt" in French), she lived right next door and had received the Final Invitation to Eternity the week before. So for the last couple of weeks, I have been engulfed in Tunisian funeral rites and receiving family and friends coming to express their condolences. My daughter managed to fly in from the States in time (funerals are within 24 hours in the Muslim world) and we said a last goodbye to Tata with the support of cousins, nieces, nephews, and family friends.

While helping to put things in order, I came across a watercolor that I did for her in 1988 for her birthday. We had little people hanging around then so playful ideas, like teddy bears, appeared. The painting was at the bottom of a sack, and a bit worn with yellowed, spotted paper. I cut it out, spatter painted a new background, glued it on, and sent her a happy birthday message in a prayer.

May she be granted peace and may her birthday celebration bring her joy in the Beyond. 

In loving memory of Tata (November 1945-November 2014).

Friday, October 24, 2014

Memories of Kindergarten

Homework for Sketchbook Skool this week was about telling a story, drawing from memory, and drawing upon Memories, particularly about the first day of school. In addition, imaginative elements could be added, such as dinosaurs, dragons, or dancing dogs (now there's an alliteration--comes from teaching literature to obstreperous students--and that would be a consonance. I better stop analyzing or I could go on like this all day...).

This type of project requires l-o-n-g reflection as kindergarten was over half a century ago, but I did manage to dig up a memory of THE first day of school. Little did I know at that time that I would be a student for life. 

Anyway, in the meantime, I had been doing a small sketch in pen everyday for a 75-day challenge (the point being to develop a habit of drawing and improve line work). Each page contains a quote, a short diary entry, a drawing and a "take-a-line-for-a-walk" (paraphrased from Paul Klee). One day, I sketched a stack of books on a small table in the living room. Two remotes were perched on top. --Light bulb--

So the Book Stack Beings found their way into my drawing, which was about the only day I e-v-e-r cried in school. In my family, we had a new baby brother and we were therefore 3 kids five and under. I imagine my parents were overwhelmed. I got on the school bus as directed and went to kindergarten, however, nobody explained the procedures and that school was only a half day. At one point, all the kids disappeared and I found myself alone and abandoned. The teacher came running: "Why aren't you getting ready to go home, Dear?"

And yet, I remember that the stacks of books were magical...

Of course, I put the SBS teacher, Mattias Adolfsson (the boy with the cowboy outfit and glasses), in my class, along with an Edward Lear figure (the boy standing on his head) from the front page of the "Book of Nonsense" whose limericks I have been teaching.

My drawing took me all week because of the detail work. 

The combination of Memory and fantasy made the project fun, however, upon reflection I find this type of illustration not really to my liking (although Mattias's work is wonderful). It feels imposed, stiff, and puerile--for me. 

It doesn't speak to me because of my daily reality in a country that teeters on the edge of chaos. The temporary government has little authority, increased administrative problems make my working environment kafka-esque causing a huge waste of time (I'd rather be blogging), garbage continues to pile up, and the whole country is tense because of elections that will take place on Sunday (Oct. 26th). The stakes are high and the religious party, which is well-funded (from the Gulf), is not known to be "fair-play." Religious extremists with Kalachnikov machine guns are doing their best to sabotage the elections, with an increase in terrorist incidences. Facebook appears to be cut off for the time being (which cannot be a good sign).

The drought currently plaguing Tunisia (it has rained maybe five times since June, that is, in 5 months) represents well the political and economic situation of this small country. I should be stitching or sketching a drought, a blighted landscape, not a kindergarten... 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Rosie's Sister

I dressed up my sewing machine a bit in honor of Rosie, who has been on my mind recently.

For those unfamiliar with that World War II poster girl icon, Rosie the Riveter, here's the original image by J. Howard Miller. This poster was used to persuade 6 million women to go to work in the armament and aviation industries when men marched off to war. The patriotic red, white, and blue tells the viewer to serve the country in its time of need. It was a very successful propaganda campaign indeed.

Rosie's image seems to appear frequently these days and came to mind when I wanted to express an idea about my sewing machine that had nagged at me for awhile. And so, Tessie the Tailor, Rosie's sister, came into existence.
Having a professional interest in the representations of women in the media, I found myself reflecting on the image and analyzing it as I drew. The point of the Rosie image was, of course, to convince women that they were strong enough to do a man's job (as if they didn't have enough to do already). In fact, it is a masculinized image. I found it interesting to examine the feminine features as compared to the masculine features of Rosie. 

First of all, what's in a name? The name contains the hard consonants of R, S, and T that suggest masculinity while the "ie" of Rosie brings it back towards the feminine. However, "the Riveter" carries strong connotations of masculinity. Consider other aspects of the image:

Feminine Traits                Masculine Traits

1.  red scarf                   1. blue working clothes
2.  a few escaping curls   2. black hair (a harsh color)
3.  red cheeks                3. square, firm jaw  
4.  small nose                4. firm chin
5.  shaped eyebrows      5.  black eyebrows with a no-nonsense expression
6.  mascara                   6. black eyelashes emphasize the hard, no-nonsense look 
7. lipstick on full lips       7. lips turned down at the corners       
8. one well-manicured fingernail 8. the hand is very large
9. ---                             9. a muscled arm that has the sunburn of a worker
10.---                            10. The flexed arm that ends in a hard fist
11.---                            11. The figure itself is not elongated or elegant, but 
                                    rather broad and stocky.
12.---                            12. Thick neck.

At this point, the scales tip toward the masculine and one may wonder whether Rosie was a man or a woman. It's not that women don't have traits listed on the masculine side. There are women with strong chins and square jaws, like me, for example. However, the sum of the male traits gives an overwhelming impression of masculinity. 

In addition, the power establishment was only letting women into the work force as lowly workers. There is no suggestion of possible promotions, career, or any sort of professional aspirations. Women were going to give a hand--temporarily. 

Obviously, the artist was a male and, consciously or unconsciously, created an image that told women they had to be more than they were; to be a woman was inadequate. Looking around at representations of women in the media today, I'm not sure we've made much progress. We must remain vigilant. 

Come to think of it, I'm not sure I want Tessie the Tailor 
representing MY sewing machine at all!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Grandma's Boot Camp: The Bardo, 2

Campers at Grandma's Boot Camp delighted in getting away from camp for an excursion. The Bardo Museum in Tunis houses one of the largest collections of Roman mosaics in the world--a wonder to see. 
One large hall contains mosaics of Roman houses in Tunisia, each one the size of the wall. To get such detail, the pieces of mosaic are minute.

Note the soulful look of the bull.

From the chained dog in front of his doghouse in the upper right corner to the elegant woman choosing jewellery in the bottom row, this sophisticated mosaic exudes human activity.
And of course, complex borders (to die for) frame each work.
This one is particularly interesting for the horse, and for the woman spinning with a drop spindle on the left.
For those interested, click to enlarge and read the information given by the museum about Roman houses.
The subject is dear to my heart as there was a Roman house in a field behind us. My Roman-rock plant table is proof. Recycling at its best.

And then, back in the States, my eldest granddaughter is studying Rome in school. However, she's too embarrassed to tell the teacher about what she has visited...ahhh, teenagers!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Flower Power or Sketchbook as Memory

Remember Flower Power in the late 1960s? My mom had a different take on that. She loved fine china with all its complex and flowery designs, and checked out junk and antique stores regularly in search of teacups in Spode or Lalique or Royal Albert...the list of companies in her mind was lengthy. I suspect her collection grew once all the kids went out into the world, because to amass such an extensive collection on my dad's meager teacher's salary was quite a feat. And she would use them lovingly, when friends would come around, on formal occasions, or just for her afternoon cup of tea. There were flowery, decorative stacks of them in the dining room to brighten the grey, drizzly Oregon winters.

Truth to tell, I raised my eyebrows and never quite understood. Give me a big, sturdy mug so I don't have to worry about breaking anything.

Recently, however, with the online classes at Sketchbook Skool, my thoughts have turned towards the sketchbook or art journal as a work of Memory, as a commentary on one's life to be bequeathed to loved ones eventually, to the younger generation. I tend to use my Textile Sketchbook/Art Journal in that sense, but, paper and paint never tempted me much. That may be changing. One of the assignments concerned teacups and suddenly there was a torrent of outpouring from SBS students remembering mothers and grandmothers. This seems to concern women in particular (what is it about teacups?), but the Memories were there.

This forced me to think about 18 of my mom's teacups gathering dust in my cupboard. I looked them over and realized they really are beautiful. I chose one and started a layout over two pages.
Because of the complexity of this design, I got distracted by another cup in blues that seemed just a bit simpler in design. (Hmmph! It still took me 3 weeks to finish.)
I glued a recycled watercolor painting to the corner. I like the yellowed paper and the hard lines of the geometric patchwork design that contrast to the swirly florals. Done with a Bic Crystal ballpoint pen, I had fairly good control over the floral design. Then the moment of truth came when I added the watercolor shadows.
After spending so much time on the finicky flowers, I nearly had two heart attacks when I ruined it all twice...however, if I've learned one thing at Sketchbook School, it's to keep going. And so, it all worked out in the end. And I thought often of my mom--OK, Mom, got it, teacups are useful (to paint). A series may be developing here.

Now, I find it comforting to think that maybe one day my granddaughters will sit and sip tea from their great-grandmother's teacups while looking at their grandmother's sketchbooks. They will remember... Memories of Flower Power...