This feminist installation artwork boldly calls for an expanded and dynamic conceptualization of the womb through an interrogation, refashioning, and reclamation of the Womb Chair, a design icon by renowned mid-century modern architect Eero Saarinen. This lounge chair, which acquired its name early after its launch by the Knoll Company in 1948, reifies two classic ‘woman-as-womb’ tropes: woman as an object of sexual titillation, and woman as fertile space to occupy. This project resists these tropes by retooling a factory-made red Womb Chair into an interactive, participatory, and performative art piece in the spirit of works by Judy Chicago and Suzanne Lacy. In this project, we talk back to the Womb Chair and fill the space within and around it with intersectional voices and collaborative labor.
PUBLICATIONS on the project
Kirin Joya Makker, Abbey Frederick & E. Ainsley Rhodes (2022) A Clamoring Revolt: Restaging, Reseeing, and Reteaching the Womb Chair, Art Journal, 81:1, 44-61.
Kirin Joya Makker (2021) Womb Chair Speaks, Feminist Studies, 47:3, 627-651.
* * *
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").
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.