I once took a class from Sybil Rampen, where she showed us a bag she had purposely put holes into, to symbolize the “hard times” she had gone through in life. Of course, when she showed it to us, the holes had been “mended.”
They had brought out the creativity needed to go far beyond a “making the best of it” mentality. Exquisite stitching, applique, beading, etc. made those mended sections the most beautiful part of the bag.
It reminded me of Deena Metzger, who had a tree branch, in bloom, tattooed where a mastectomy had claimed her breast. Then she made a poster of herself, hands outstretched, the artwork proudly displayed. She wrote this poem to accompany the poster:
I am no longer afraid of mirrors where I see the sign of the
amazon, the one who shoots arrows.
There was a fine red line across my chest where a knife
entered, but now
a branch winds about the scar and travels from arm to heart.
Green leaves cover the branch, grapes hang there and a bird
What grows in me now is vital and does not cause me harm.
I think the bird is singing.
I have relinquished some of the scars.
I have designed my chest with the care given to an illuminated manuscript.
I am no longer ashamed to make love. Love is a battle I
I have the body of a warrior who does not kill or wound.
On the book of my body, I have permanently inscribed a tree.
That ability to envision (and enact) a metamorphosis of what most would call a mutilation into something beautiful is deeply moving. If you want to read more about Metzger’s remarkable life and work, read her essay entitled Illness Heals the World.