‘I’m being followed by a moon shadow,
moon shadow, moon shadow…
Did it take long to find me
I asked the faithful light
Did it take long to find me…’
These words sung by the soulful voice of Cat Stevens (his name then) transports me back to my youth. I knew only a little school English then and didn’t really understand the words only the urgent tone and the yearning for things to be different.
It took a long time for the moon to find me. For the last two months it/she has shed some liquidly light into my new, self-directed art project. It started with an experiment with red dye in a large bucket of water. I was disappointed with the shade of red when the cloth dried on the green leaves of the mango tree. The fiery red dried to red-pink.
A little while later this colour evoked memories of another time and place, where I had dyed a soft cotton slip of the exact same shade of reddish-pink. In my memory it had belonged to my grandmother, but that seems unlikely now. I cannot see her ever wearing such a soft cotton petticoat with a little lace trim around the neckline. I would have liked to have had a grandmother who wore such things.
I was excited about this ‘new’ summer dress. It was loose, cool and different. It was around the same time that I listened to Cat Stevens. For my father however the garment acted as a red flag. All hell broke loose. We were back in the arena — in the bull fight ring—the matador and the bull. We had already fought many battles about the length of skirts, dresses and pants. Now came this shapeless shift, this inside out sort of a ‘rag’ that I dared to walk around in. It was a fight of life and death. Our personhoods were under threat, his sense of respectability and conservative, catholic values—my sense of freedom and who I wanted to be. ‘The times they were a changing’, somebody else sang.
Since this pink presented itself now, I decided to flow with it. I dribbled, splashed and painted with this watery dye. Well, it’s pink, it’s soft, it’s raw, it’s insipid, it’s fleshy. It’s like turning the inside out. It doesn’t have much structure. It’s amorphous. It speaks of wounding.
It’s become a metaphor for femininity. In my psyche, pink joins forces with the moon as symbols for openness, receptivity, vulnerability, empathy and creating. How open can I stay with this process—turning things inside out—not knowing….I want to learn ways that I wasn’t taught, wasn’t shown and that are not so readily welcomed in this, our world.
My father and I both lost the fight and both limped away wounded and never really healed. We lost connection, the little that was ever there.
I see that my desire for control and also drive (red) is challenged by this soft pink and watery material. Sometimes I seek tempering and wisdom from the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. Stephen Mitchell in the foreword to his translation calls it the most female of religious texts.
Know the male,
yet keep to the female:
receive the world in your arms.
If you receive the world,
the Tao will never leave you
and you will be like a little child.
Intoning the soft brought out the hard—the fluid the unbending—the pliable the rigid. Contrasts. Holding these opposites feels good. And I got excited when I found an expression for that—crocheting with wire—folding and sewing softly torn rice-paper and joining it all together. See above close up image.
I would have liked to crochet many doilies with wire but it is too hard on my joints. My joints are my allies. They tell me to be kind and soft and ease off. The Tao says:
Nothing in the world
is as soft as water.
Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible,
nothing can surpass it.
The soft overcomes the hard:
the gentle overcomes the rigid.
Everyone knows this is true,
but few can put it into practice.