Childbirth Initiation & Healing Cloak
Childbirth Initiation & Healing Cloak is a personal narrative around my C-section delivery and a retro-active garment that seeks to spiritually and emotionally prepare myself for giving birth through surgery and then the healing process afterwards.
The garment is hand stitched and embroidered and is meant to create a dialogue around female rites of passage, motherhood and the need for spiritual and ceremonial acts and rituals to honour and mark these transformative events.
The garment was constructed using the Jewish prayer shawl as a basic structure. It was constructed in layers and using a variety of techniques including knitting, patchwork, handstitching, embroidery, painting, found objects and cut-work embroidery. The design of the garment was created intuitively based on the construction of material using a combination of repurposed fabrics, raw canvas, and re-purposed paintings.
The garment contains multiple pockets and pouches that will be used to hold hand painted amulets, talismans and scrolls. The scrolls will contain a birth narrative as well as healing prayers and poems, both invented and adapted from Jewish prayer.
I am interested in amulet and talisman making using found objects such as crushed cans which are contemporary artefacts and hand painted stones.
The amulet against the evil eye is a predominent symbol in my work, as the amulet against the evil eye is based on Sephardic Jewish superstition and is used in spiritual protection of pregant women and babies.
Sheila Paine’s book Embroidered Textiles Tradition Patterns from Five Continents has broadened my understanding of the role that the strategic positioning of embroidery patterns as a magical source of protection has played across cultures particularly in pre-industrialized textile production.
The embroidery patterns I use in this Initiation garment seeks to continue this tradition through hand stitching and embroidery. I consider these garments a form of “spiritual couture”. I have taken from patterns I have copied from my great grandmother’s table cloth, some are based on the Chakra Energy centres from the Yogic tradition, some are based on iconographic tears and blood drops. The positioning of the pouches and embroidered designs are strategically place along the central axis of the body in alignment with the energy centres/ chakras and the corresponding spiritual map from the Kabbalah, i.e the Sefirot of the Kabbalah Tree of Life.
I’m interested in the ideas put forth by Vanessa Ochs in her book “Inventing Jewish Ritual” in which she posits Judaism as a living religion in which Jews may invent rituals to adapt to the needs of modern life. I have been looking at the writings of Gershon Winkler in his book “Magic of the Ordinary: Recovering the Shamanic in Judaism” in which he draws spiritual connections between early Jewish life and Indigenous cultures. I have also been reading “The Jew in the Lotus” by Roger Kamenetz in which he looks at interfaith dialogue between Judaism and Tibetan Buddhism through conversations between Jewish rabbis and the Dalai Lama. The outcome of which was revealing the closed nature of Jewish mysticism, and the built in patriarchy which prohibits access to spiritual practices to women outside of their roles as wives and mothers.
Rozsika Parker & Griselda Pollock’s book Old Mistresses Women, Art and Ideology, have also informed my practice, through looking at art making from a feminist perspective, and wanting to highlight the importance of women’s narratives and life experiences. While learning about the historical symbolism around embroidery as a form of magical protection from cultures from around the world, has broadened my understanding of embroidery as existing from a time prior to it’s association with constructions of the feminine, and domestic labour. Reading the Subversive Stitch by Rozsika Parker, has further emphasized the complex history and relationship between women and embroidery.
The child birth Initiaion & Healing Cloak will eventually become the basis of a performative action that speaks to my own personal experience of a Cesarean childbirth that was at once traumatic and transformational. This garment is also meant to honour and elevate women’s experiences as worthy of artistic expression and to directly critique the systemic misogony and sexistm that exists in the art world and that causes artist mothers to feel shame around the “dual role” of artist and mother.
The garment also speaks to themes of embodiment and matrilineal, ancestral inheritance. The form and aesthetic of the garment references Russian “nesting dolls” and is meant to be experienced as a protective embrace. The inner layer of the garment is a velvet wool that feels soft against the skin. The design of the garment itself, goes over the head and is open at the sides to allow for expansion during different stages of pregancny. The strategically placed pouches, also allow the mother to place hands over her pregnant belly or to hold healing crystals or other meaningful objects that offer comfort and support.