Friday, June 9, 2017

BestSeatIBW2016- Morris Louis*

*This post was originally written as a Facebook post for Babywearing International of Cleveland for International Babywearing Week 2016. Some edits have been made for clarity.  

This wrap is appropriately called “Paint,” and features a rainbow of paint dripping from one rail (presumably the top) down to the other.  Natibaby, who wove this wrap, gives almost no description and only hints at the joy that the act of painting can bring.  No particular artist or inspiration is named, but I think it looks remarkably like Color Field Painting, particularly the work of Morris Louis, an American painter working in the mid-20th century.

Louis’s work forms a link between Abstract Expressionism, particularly action painting (think of those Jackson Pollock drip paintings, in which we as viewers can see how each layer of paint is applied to the canvas, and imagine the motions the artists made while doing so), and Minimalism, which would take hold in the 1960’s.  Louis’s painting, Where, from 1960 (at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, 66.3112) reminds me of the stripes of dripping paint on the wrap, the fluid way in which the medium- the paint- takes center stage.  Much of Louis’s work atthis time features more deliberate and obvious dripping, but the organization here, the primacy of the bands of color, connects it to the woven wrap in design.

Louis’s technique, pouring thinned paint directly onto the canvas while the canvas is spread flat on the floor of his studio, is one he learned from Helen Frankenthaler, the painter who pioneered Color Field Painting.  Artists working in this style reject any emotional, religious, or personal meaning, instead celebrating color itself, allowing viewers to make up their own minds.  Natibaby, it seems, allows us to do the same, by celebrating the paint itself!

Monday, May 15, 2017

BestSeatIBW2016- Piet Mondrian*

*This post was originally written as a Facebook post for Babywearing International of Cleveland for International Babywearing Week 2016. Some edits have been made for clarity. 

This ring sling (on its way to becoming an onbuhimo by now!) was cut from a longer wrap (I split it with another art historian and educator!). The wrap is based on the paintings of Piet Mondrian, a Dutch-American artist working in a style called “De Stijl” (meaning “the style”) in the mid-20th century. Though he began his career painting landscapes in his native Netherlands, Mondrian came to reject the object entirely in favor of abstract compositions featuring only red, yellow, and blue with black and white. I’ve paired the wrap here with an example of this part of his body of work: Composition in Red, Blue, and Yellow from 1937- 42 (Museum of Modern Art, New York City, 638.1967). In part, this turn toward abstraction was an optimistic expression of his belief in the birth of a new, machine- and technology-fueled age after WWI; the rigid, perpendicular lines and simple color schemes are meant to suggest structure and the geometric elements that create a perfect, orderly world.

More than just a suggestion of machinery, the compositions reflect Mondrian’s fascination with New York City in particular, where he fled at the outbreak of WWII. The straight vertical and horizontal lines look like scaffolding, or the steel skeletons of skyscrapers, rising on Manhattan. But if the picture plane is imagined on the floor in front of us, the black lines suggest the city's grid, the movement of traffic, and the colors become blinking electric lights.

Mondrian was also interested in American jazz music, particularly boogie-woogie; the rhythms of squares and rectangles also created a syncopated beat that visually represents jazz’s irreverent approach to melody and improvisational aesthetic. The colors appear random and spontaneous, but are still grounded by the structure provided by the white background and black bands.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has produced a quick video detailing Mondrian’s fascination with jazz and dance here.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

BestSeatIBW2016- Vincent van Gogh*

*This post was originally written as a Facebook post for Babywearing International of Cleveland for International Babywearing Week 2016. Some edits have been made for clarity.

The last few posts from IBW 2016 (#bestseatIBW2016) feature contemporary carriers inspired by famous artists and works of art! Each carrier featured is a different type, though all are a wrap or wrap conversions.

First, check out this onbuhimo inspired buckle carrier belonging to ABE Sarah C. Miller-Fellows​! The design of the wrap from which it was converted is a painting familiar to many: Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night from 1889, which is owned by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City (472.1941). Vincent van Gogh is known for exuberant compositions and rough, excited brushwork, coupled with vibrant colors. Indebted to the Impressionists for their techniques, but not loyal to their sense of the fleeting moment, Vincent painted works from his memory, imagination, and dreams. The Starry Night here includes the cypress trees- often a symbol of mourning- seen from his residence in the south of France. The town nestled into the hillside with its prominent church tower is more reminiscent of the Dutch landscape where he grew up. The church spire is important for two reasons: it reflects Vincent’s faith and his original ambitions to serve as a pastor (dashed when a catastrophic mining accident befell his parish), and it echoes the surge of the cypress, creating a ripple of energy across the canvas. This energy is matched and carried on by the swirling brushstrokes that fill the sky, frequently attributed to Vincent’s often agitated emotional and mental state.

The carrier here is an onbuhimo inspired buckle carrier; an onbuhimo is a traditional carrier from Japan, designed to be worn without a waistband. It typically has looped straps that connect at either side to a long panel. These go over the wearer’s shoulders and the panel forms a seat when the straps are tightened. Traditionally made with a ring finish, there are now onbuhimo inspired carriers on the market with buckles, too (like this one). Best for a larger baby or toddler, they are loved for being quick and comfortable! What strikes me here is that Vincent would probably have loved seeing his work on a Japanese style carrier (if he knew what it was!). He was a lover of Japanese art, particularly the style of print featured earlier, ukiyo-e, and collected and copied many of them throughout his career.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

BestSeatIBW2016- Dogon Couple*

*This post was originally written as a Facebook post for Babywearing International of Cleveland for International Babywearing Week 2016. Some edits have been made for clarity.

Just kidding!  My files were out of order and I almost missed one of my favorite objects.  The image above is two sides of the same sculpture (1977.394.15), found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  This type of sculpture is often called a “primordial couple,” and was probably made for display at a funeral. Much funerary art across cultures features themes of rebirth and new life, emphasizing the cyclical nature of life.

Created by the Dogon people of Mali around the turn of the 19th century, it consist of simple forms- cylindrical arms, legs, and torsos that recall the shape of the wood from which it was carved, linear patterns for facial features and scarification- yet recalls an important aspect of Dogon attitudes toward marriage, that is it a partnership of independent equals. Note that they are similar in size and complementary in pose (check out her labret piercing to match his beard, her hands on her knees to match his over his lap, etc.). This is a technique meant to imply unity in purpose and equality of importance.

For our purposes, the quiver on the man’s back that would have contained arrows (signifying his role as provider and protector) is paired with a worn baby on the woman’s back (signifying her role as child bearer and nurturer)! Because some of the iron adornments are missing or compromised, I suspect the same fate befell the fabric that would have kept her baby close in a low torso carry. Fabric is one of the most fragile materials used in works of art, and it is difficult to preserve. Side note: if you’d like to check out a fabric for this kind of carry, our Twinsburg lending library has a kanga and several educators who can help you learn to use it safely!

Other details of the sculpture reinforce themes of family and ancestry: the enlarged navels are a reminder of where the couple themselves originated, and the small figures carved into the legs of their seat are likely images of ancestors, who literally and figuratively support the couple.

Monday, April 10, 2017

BestSeatIBW2016- Teishinkō*

*This post was originally written as a Facebook post for Babywearing International of Cleveland for International Babywearing Week 2016. Some edits have been made for clarity.

This is the last art object of this series on babywearing and art.  Don't worry, it's not my last post (I still have some more in store)!

Titled “Teishinkō” (from the Library of Congress, FP 2 - JPD, no. 2003) which translates to “the courtier Teishin,” this print by Utagawa Toyokuni III shows a woman carrying a child on her back. She was probably a member of the recently wealthy middle class, which rose to prominence during the Edo period. The Edo period was a period of peace, which meant that resources and wealth could be spent on luxuries like, theater, women, and art, all of which the middle class did lustily. This work falls under the category of “bijin-ga,” or images of beautiful people, a subset of the ukiyo-e prints that were popular during this period (this print was probably produced around 1843-1845). Ukiyo-e prints, “pictures of the floating world,” were often of the actors and popular entertainers of Edo Japan. They were light in theme and celebratory in nature, exemplifying “joie de vivre,” or joy of life. Woodblock prints, because many could be made from a single carved block (think a rubber stamp, but made from wood), were wildly popular and widely disseminated. They became especially popular with European collectors and painters such as Vincent Van Gogh and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who admired the flatness and bright colors.

The carrier is hard to see in this print, but the black X-shaped lines across her front are similar to photographs of Japanese women wearing babies that appear in western publications in the nineteenth century.** They appear to be straps that would attach a to panel to secure a baby to her back, then cross under her arms and tie behind her. The arrangement of bodies here is stylized, or simplified, so what appears to be straps also seems to be quite loose! I have my suspicions that the artist was both unfamiliar with the intricacies of babywearing and also more interested in aesthetic effect (note, too, how the lines of flowers in her garment do not bend very convincingly with her pose, and the fabric itself is rendered as flat planes of color).

The portrait behind her, the partially unrolled scroll, plus the tablet with a poem on it in the background might give us some more context to this work, but (without reading Japanese) reflect the literary history of Japan, and recall playbills and posters for popular theatrical events, like Kabuki, as if this mother and child were just off to a show!

**I can't be sure of the provenance of this image, but the credit on the website is to M. Nakajima of Tokyo

Saturday, April 1, 2017

BestSeatIBW2016- Shipibo-Conibo baby carrier*

*This post was originally written as a Facebook post for Babywearing International of Cleveland for International Babywearing Week 2016.   Some edits have been made for clarity.

Here’s another artistic carrier from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (1999.47.306). This is a carrier from the Shipibo-Conibo people from Peru, and was made sometime in the 20th century. Here’s a portion from an article about Shipibo-Conibo textiles that describes some of the meaning behind the design:

 “Textile and ceramic arts of the Shipibo feature a distinctive all-over pattern of designs known as kené or quene designs. Shipibo people frequently say that these are like the paths of life, or roads, or the meanders of the rivers where they live, sometimes they say they are the patterns and movement of the anaconda or of Ronin the cosmic serpent, and sometimes they say that these patterns are only a fraction of what their ancestors used to know…”

The meanings behind the patterns are often overseen by a shaman, whose “expanded consciousness and sense of cosmic vision is the key to understanding the distinctive Shipibo designs. It is the responsibility of the shaman to rescue the designs of the heavenly world and transmit them to the women. The production of these designs on all the objects of material culture gives power and protection to the home, to individuals, and to the whole group. Through kené designs, the culture of the Shipibo is at once defined, decorated, and owned by both individuals and the group.” (Odland, Claire and Feldman,Nancy, "Shipibo Textile Practices 1952-2010" (2010)). Textile Society of America Symposium Proceedings. Paper 42.)

Fun fact: horizontal stripes and patterns are features of women’s garments, while men’s clothing features vertical designs!

As for this carrier, it seems to looks quite a lot like a pouch, in that it appears to be stitched into a tube, with the bone portions dangling off what must be the bottom. I suspect, given the narrow width of the fabric, that it was not hands-free to use, but must have mitigated the strain of carrying a baby or child, and certainly served to reinforce community bonds, within the family and beyond.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

BestSeatIBW2016- Dayak Ba*

*This post was originally written as a Facebook post for Babywearing International of Cleveland for International Babywearing Week 2016.   Some edits have been made for clarity.

Art historian checking in with a carrier that functions like a work of art! The decoration on this ba, by the Dayak people from Borneo, serves to beautify AND protect the baby carried within! This one comes from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (2014.839), and features a protective symbol on the back panel.  I admit this is outside the scope of my study, so I've quoted some background information on these carriers from an expert below:

“Dayak baby carriers, called ba, resemble small chairs without legs, supported on the mother’s shoulders from straps, like a backpack. The seat is made of a semi-circular plank to which the woven basketry back is attached. This wood and rattan basket is usually lined and covered with hand loomed cloth and finished with a beaded panel at the back depicting powerful protective symbols and further embellished with tassels, bells, teeth, claws, or cowry shells and strings of large beads.

The Dayak beaded baby carrier or ba was created for two reasons – to display the prestige and wealth of the family, and to protect the baby when it left the safety of the communal longhouse and compound. They were used only when mother and baby were away from home.

The source of the protection offered by the baby carrier was primarily the beaded panel called the aban, which faced outwards from the rear of the ba. The Dayak are animists and their world is populated by powerful spirits, many of which are dangerous to humans. The designs of most women’s art are defensive, designed to erect barriers between their families and the malignant spirits and this is a particularly important role of baby carriers, which guard the baby from the rear.”

Sunday, March 19, 2017

BestSeatIBW2016- Babywearing Hare*

*This post was originally written as a Facebook post for Babywearing International of Cleveland for International Babywearing Week 2016.   Some edits have been made for clarity.

Hi all, I'm Wendy, one of your resident art historians and volunteer babywearing educators! This is the first in a series of images of a work of art that features babywearing, or a carrier that's also a work of art!

To start off, here’s an image near and dear to my medievalist heart. This babywearing hare comes from the margins of the Pontifical of Guillaume Durand, produced near Avignon before 1390. A pontifical is a book containing rites and ceremonies to be performed by the pope or a bishop, a very rich book, indeed! A manuscript of this type (“manu” meaning hand, and “script” indicating written) was painstakingly copied by expert calligraphers, artists painted in images, and gold leaf was applied to enhance the beauty and luxury of the final object. It took a whole team of skilled workers to produce a single page. The images and decorations (especially the gold) make this an illuminated manuscript, one enhanced by pictures that often related concepts from the text within, or revealed the sense of humor of the monks who labored over them. No one’s sure why or how this puppy-wearing hare made it to the edges of the text of this holy book, but I’m sure glad it did!

(Paris, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, ms. 143, fol. 174r, originally sourced from discarding images)