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 and given attentive health care.
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 is prone angles and 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 prone bowl form create an an object that powerfully embodies and deploys the 'woman-as-womb' trope. Saarinen's chair is both the woman as prone sexual object (for the man) and space of domestic repose (for the man and man's child).
This project, Womb Chair Speaks, reclaims the chair from these spaces of white masculine power and repose by placing it in spaces of collective-making and discussion (the temporary craftivist participatory pop-up installation and exhibition). In its new spaces, the chair is slowly hand-sewn and a loosely guided conversation ensues, 'stitch 'n bitch'-style. With talk, participants resist the narrow narratives the womb has long had and add dimension with their own stories. While the chair is re-upholstered with hand-made felt ruffles, roses, and Suffolk puffs, it re-acquires the aesthetic markers of women’s labor, feminine frills purposefully shed by modern designers. The chair also gains a cacophony of conversation and new knowledge around it by women (or womxn; anyone with a womb may participate). 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 womxn receive good healthcare. .
It's time to let the womb speak.