Singing the Silence
Creative women today owe a debt to those who broke the rules before many of us were even born. Poet Muriel Rukeyser’s often-quoted question asks: “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open” (Rukeyser 1968). Today, with talk shows and memoirs that bare all, we take for granted the airing of our private lives. But when artists like Frida Kahlo and, later, Judy Chicago, created their groundbreaking artwork, there was scant encouragement for women to have creative careers, let alone make art about their authentic experiences. Roseanne Cecil, in her book The Anthropology of Miscarriage, reminds us that “the lives of ordinary women have been largely hidden from history” (1996, p.179).
Against the background of these challenges, we search for clues of how the arts have been employed to express (or obscure) the realities of infertility and pregnancy loss. How does unearthing the history of the creative expression of pregnancy loss instruct us today? By understanding the ways in which women’s real experiences have been muffled and misconstrued, we derive a clearer understanding of where we stand now and what needs to be reclaimed. Cecil (1996, p.3) points out: “.the significance which a pregnancy loss has for a culture can be gleaned from considering how miscarriages and other losses are dealt with in its literature and poetry.” The arts provide a mirror of the society in which they are produced, allowing us a glimpse of the unspoken attitudes and beliefs of the times. In rediscovering this body of work and placing it in context, we also lay claim to the potent symbols and images found therein, making them available to new generations of women and men. With this knowledge, one can see symbols found in ancient cultural practices reverberating in today’s artwork, whether by coincidence or by design.