More than 130 million girls and young women have been subjected to genital mutilation around the globe, primarily in Africa. It is a dangerous operation that has many physical, mental, and cultural ramifications. The procedure itself can vary, but generally speaking it is the removal of part, or all, of the female genitalia, often using blunt instruments in unsanitary conditions.

Female genital mutilation is traditionally practiced as a ritual signifying the acceptance of a woman into society and establishes her eligibility for marriage. It is believed to inspire submissiveness in women, and to reduce the desire and opportunity for sex outside of marriage. In many of these societies, a woman’s chastity is the basis for the family’s honor, so restricting the woman’s sexuality is seen as essential.

In this print, I depict two young women gleefully riding a bicycle. I remember well the feeling of freedom and mobility that came with my first bicycle, and wanted these women to feel that liberty. In my mind, they may have received a grant for women entrepreneurs, and are bringing their goods –jewelry or dyed fabrics, perhaps– to market for sale. I wanted to envision a life of independence and opportunity for them.

I used pink as the color in this print because red and white are two potent colors in many African societies, though their particular meanings may vary from culture to culture and depending on the context. That said, red can mean life, blood, power and conflict, while white may symbolize peace and sacredness. Ordinary red denotes power, but a particular shade may mean misery or grief. Red can also symbolize passage from one realm to another, as in the rising and setting of the sun, and by extension symbolizes all passage in a social sense. Red and white can also be used to stand in for men and women in opposition to each other.

Linoleum block print with text overlay on acrylic
Edition of 12, 2009

“Submissiveness” is one of three prints I’ve created about gender violence. They are all currently on display at the Frank Bette Center for the Arts in Alameda, through September 26. They are part of a show titled In Memoriam: Women’s Lives Taken by Violence. There are also movie screenings and poetry readings in conjunction with the exhibit; click here for more information.

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