Nina Bohlen and me at the reception standing in front of her painting Jabez Dreams
On August 31, 2019 Jessica Roscio, curator of Danforth Art Museum at Framingham State University, presented her show DRESSED – the work of six artists working in a range of media whose works reference the intricacies of covering the body and the meaning imbued in items such as the familiar dress form… experimenting with the fluidity of form while acknowledging gendered constrictions placed on the body.
A year ago Jessica asked that I create a headwear sculpture in response to a painting from the museum’s permanent collection. For those who don’t know me, this is my absolute favorite way to work! Research, contextualizing, sketching, resketching, more research… you see my obsession.
As difficult as it is to only choose one I was particularly attracted to a painting by Nina Bohlen. Jabez Dreams is full of color, expression and utopian vitality. Naive to the meaning of the title, but sure that it was of importance to Nina, I spent some time looking into the name Jabez.
NINA BOHLEN Jabez Dreams , n.d. Oil on canvas 31” x 41” Gift of the Artist
What I found is a biblical story from the Chronicles about a man, Jabez, whose name stands for sorrow, trouble and he causes pain. His mother was inspired by the name “Because I bore him in pain”. In those times names were very important and it was believed that they defined a person’s fate.
Well, Jabez was very worried about having a life of sorrow and wanted to do something about it. He engaged in a life of good deeds and prayer to God to redeem himself of this plight and apparently it worked. He was labeled with sorrow at birth, but his prayer and actions against contracting sorrow nullified the label. His life contradicted his name. I like to think of it as him taking control of his destiny. According to this online reference, God had a purpose for Israel, and a for Jabez – the plight of the persecuted in finding peace.
Metaphorically, Nina’s painting of flowers, birds and idyllic nature symbolizes sanctuary. A place of safety possibly realized by overcoming superimposed obstacles or predetermined characteristics that are endowed on individuals according to their appearance, identity or any other means.
Bringing to the present, It is uncanny how similar this story is with what’s happening to transgender voters in places like Georgia, who are being blocked from voting if their ID’s don’t match up with their birth name (and gender) at birth. I came across an article about how the first (and most important) step in claiming a new identity is the process of changing your name.
“For many transgender people, choosing a new name is the first outward claim on their new identity. It helps [other] people to start seeing and thinking about you differently — even if your body hasn’t changed, or if body changes aren’t part of your transition plan, they still have to call you something different,”
This brings me to the thesis of Dressed, and how my headwear sculpture relates to ‘the guise we present to the outside world’ and ‘the meaning imbued in items of familiar dress form’.
Call Me Rose, Assorted clothing fabrics, red dye, threads, wire - 2019 Photo: Will Howcroft