Cease & Desist: the Bearded Lady Mask
Following my mom’s death on Remembrance Day 2019, I did not bead for three months and found myself in a media explosion of pipeline protests, followed by a shutdown due to covid19 and a world questioning systemic racism.
Over the past couple months I returned to beadwork but with plans to create masks and mixed media lungs. I create multiple works simultaneously so I have a badger mask, caribou and raven lungs works in progress. But these are story and portrait masks.
Over the years Sandra Alfoldy , professor, art historian and curator (who included my beaded works in the Cheongju Biennale, Vancouver Olympics and tours of Scotland and Canada ) succumbed to cancer, also in 2019.
The Scottish play (Macbeth) introduces us to three women (witches) with beards who are said to know when something wicked this way comes!!! How much pricking is known to beaders!
I had been working on templates for the tree of knowledge and tree of life. Something was chewing at the roots. Pandemics are cease and desists? In history and still where superstition overwhelms, witches are blamed for pandemics.
In history the bearded ones were accused of witchcraft when we wanted to “unsex” power, of traditional medicinal knowledge and take away land based healing to then masculine worlds of medicine and science. Those who were eccentric or outspoken were often labelled witches. Nowadays corporations have alternative means to silence whistleblowers and wisdom keepers.
In the English language a beaver is an obsolete term for a full beard. It also has slang associations to women. Canada was born of a beaver. Corporate greed and fashion had already made the beaver extinct in Europe and nearly did again following the HBC exploitation of the animal here in North America. 350 years to protest beaver lives matter and land back. I literally live adjacent to beaver lodges. But we don’t listen to the creatures anymore- those sacred languages lost.
Sandra Alfoldy has written books and done lectures about Canadian Craft. She has a humorous ironic take on artisans as “bearded”. She had been questioning the corporate appropriation of words like “artisan” and “craft” to sell mass produced products. She had lamented that in 2016 Maple Leaf Foods had trademarked the words “Canadian Craft TM” for their apple whiskey flavoured bacon, as if all the textile, wood, metal, glass and other media makers across Canada did not produce “real” Canadian Craft! For a chapter in her book she inquired and was slapped with a “cease and desist” to discuss, lecture, reference etc. their use of this apple whiskey trademark.
I had discussed making Beaded apple whiskey beavers for a exhibition that subsequently was cancelled following her illness/death. I had told her I was creating works around the true Canadian artisan- the beaver.
Artists who truly produce Canadian Craft leave their DNA in their works. These are the Dam Nation Artists who do not observe the cease and desist terrorism of corporations. They are the “land back” originators. I have been working on a full beaded DNA genome for beaver teeth as part of my embroidered confessions and other collaborations series funded by Manitoba Arts Council and Canada Council for the Arts. Part of the series expands into another work cease and desist: the sin eater, a fully beaded beaver fur cape about northern Manitoban beavers taken in 1946 to Argentina (and are now invasive species)-Adored but now damned too!
Years ago the Suffragettes used stitching as part of the Victorian underground to promote health and human rights. I have reclaimed damaged pieces of antique Needlecraft. -Neatly stitched in a orderly pattern - sometimes the revolution needs us to take things apart before we recreate new beginnings. In burial histories we would deflesh and sit with the bones- we would bury and dig up the bones a year later before a final ceremony to honour the spirits and release our memories. A new set of clothes took us away from mourning attire. There will be a time when we no longer need the mask but will we have learned from those spirits and bones how to live new lives. Do we honour those we mourn with new science, new medicines, new relationships with others and our world?
Sometimes we can remake the world if we listen to the whispers. Maybe a mask is meant to tell us to shut up and listen to the needs of our world, our climate, our peoples, our creatures (flora and fauna) I cut up antique beadwork to create with new additions, a bearded lady mask. (BLM) Hidden under a N95 mask is Sandra’s smile, that while no longer seen, is well remembered by those who shared her time.
I believe in giving the mask some art with teeth so the work will feature beaver tail leather, beaver teeth, zippers, and as I have time I hope I can add a DNA dam nation artists manifesto based on Sandra’s lectures and what language I can create with zipper teeth. This may be added behind or as part of the PPE gloves with more beaded sections, beaver tail leather, fur etc.
Through this pandemic it has been the makers that have helped others survive changes as they happened. Artists have gifted their talents and continue to leave a legacy that is our true Canadian Craft.