31 October 2013

Sue Anonymous Series - Lois Wilby Hooper, Moore’s Mills, New Brunswick

Lois Wilby-Hooper is the artist and creator of Sue Anonymous Series which tells the story of woman abuse through a four panel quilt display. Lois remarked that although it has been some time since she created this series, sadly it is still very relevant.

Depicting violence and abuse against women, this series has been on semi-permanent loan to the Muriel McQueen Ferguson Foundation for research in the prevention of domestic violence, both as a display and as a teaching tool in Fredericton, NBThe quilts have had considerable impact on viewers and have provided the opportunity for expressing emotions about family violence. It has opened new channels of communication amongst members of communities and assisted in reaching and empowering people.

Sunbonnet Sue is a quilt pattern instantly recognizable to everyone and she became the symbol for "Everywoman" when Lois started wondering why her face was never shown. 

Don't Make Waves
From her studies in historic costume,  Lois came to realize that women had the odds weighted against them from time immemorial. Hampered by clothing that stressed their subservience, economics and customs which restrained their freedom, and attitudes which actively suppressed any expression of independence, women have had a long struggle which could be summarized as "sit down, shut up, and don't make waves". Sue struggles through the waves with no sight of land, holding up an arm in a mute plea for help.

Down and Down
Everyone has dreamed of falling endlessly into a void, that stomach-churning sensation of vertigo. The environment of mental abuse leaves no visible blemish, but the psychological scars have a life-long effect. From an indistinct grey area, Sue tumbles headfirst into a downward spiral, which becomes darker and darker as she falls. The quilted spiral shape reinforces her rapid descent and suggests the tornado of emotions she experiences. The subtle greys imply the insidious effect of mental abuse, from barely recognizable beginnings to the devastating realization of entrapment. The endless taunts and slurs have as cumulative an effect as tiny endless drops of water eventually become an ocean.

Sue Anonymous
Lois was struck by the fact, that of the hundreds of "Sue" patterns, her face is never seen. That seemed somehow symbolic. She began to wonder what the demure little bonnet concealed - was it bruises and blood? Sue became in her mind, a symbol of "Everywoman". The dainty figure stands against a violent background of purple, red, yellow and green - the colours of half-healed bruises.

At the top left corner, two entwined hearts are quilted. The heart pattern continues down across the hanging, but as they go, the hearts droop and sag out of shape. Gradually they enclose drops of blood and at the bottom, blood flows and drips off the edges. The use of a blood-red rose fabric was deliberate. Abusers often shower their victims with flowers and assurances that "it will never happen again!" As the cycle of violence continues, physical abuse becomes entangled with mental abuse.

Now You Don’t Have Me

"At first you had me in the palm of your hand. Then you had me in your pocket. Then you had me under your feet. Now you don't have me."

Those were the compelling words of a woman who endured ten years of beatings and abuse, whose story was detailed in a newspaper article that I read. I had been searching for an idea to finish the series of wall hangings depicting violence and abuse directed against women. That quotation seemed to summarize perfectly the mental journey of a victim who had been able to work through fear and anguish to a new self-confidence.

Against the glow of sunrise, a seemingly dead tree, whose branches form a silhouette of Sue's bonnet, tentatively puts out new growth of green leaves. 

No comments:

Post a Comment