This artwork challenges cultural and physical mythologies of the womb through an interrogation and refashioning of the Womb Chair (1948) by Eero Saarinen. The purpose of this project is to amplify the wombs’--and by extension womens’--struggles to be heard. Heard about their bodies, heard about their art, and heard about how they take up space. In this project, we talk back to the womb chair and fill the space within and around it with loud intersectional voices.
An iconographic piece of mid-century furniture, this chair has a strange history as a cultural text. Designed for in the mid-century new white male corporate office aesthetic and materials, it's image appeared (was deployed?) with regularity in the pages of Playboy magazine, another mid-century white male space. The Womb Chair also showed up in a Norman Rockwell painted cover for the Saturday Evening Post, again presented as a space of white male retreat within a white family home (an early mini "man cave"!).
But really, are we surprised that this chair, with its open bowl-like form, designed and intended for installation in spaces controlled largely by white upper class men, would end up with the lasting name "Womb Chair"? The chair's form and cultural history powerfully reflect the cliche of 'woman-as-womb'. She is a womb for sex and a womb for protecting the man's child, or (social man-child!).
This project, Womb Chair Speaks, reclaims this chair from these spaces of white masculinity by placing it in spaces of collective-making and discussion. We sponsor temporary pop-up sewing circles where folks share sewing skills and stories, slowly restitching into the chair and cultivating new fuller narratives about the womb. While the chair is re-upholstered with hand-made felt ruffles, roses, and Suffolk puffs, the chair also re-acquires the aesthetic markers of women’s labor, feminine frills purposefully shed by modern designers like Saarinen. The chair ultimately will gain a cacophony of conversation and new knowledge centering women's experience. The new womb chair slowly accumulates layers of memory, narrative complexity and resilience. In this form, the Womb Chair speaks multitudes, through the chatter of collective discussion, shared learning, and collaborative work.
Metaphors associated with the human womb should reflect a full array of dynamic, challenging, and complex womb experiences. Only by amplifying the womb's infinite narratives -- stories beyond the "woman as womb" trope that limits the womb's identity to serving for sex or pregnancy -- will much needed knowledge about the womb increase to a degree that women receive good healthcare. .
It's time to let the womb speak.