“What to Do?”, a woodcut by Bahamian master printmaker Maxwell Taylor, is this month’s Art Work of the Month.
In “What to Do?” the artist speaks about the role of the matriarch in the Bahamian family construct. It delves into identity issues and obligations of women in our contemporary society.
Across cultures, the matriarch has always been considered the strength/anchor of the household. While it can be argued that the patriarchal figure is more significant to the stronghold of the family construct, the duties of women within the domestic space take precedence over the presence of the male. It is expected that women play the dominant role in childrearing, care-giving, maintenance and upkeep of the household, as well as being the true helpmate/equal of her partner. Although Western society is dominated by the patriarchal, with the traditional family model still having the man as the figurehead, the woman is oftentimes the most influential figure in the family unit.
Even with the protestation for women’s rights and equality, the rights of women are still unequal to those of men, even though they may carry a greater responsibility, being a significant presence in both the workplace as well as the home.
Western societies have been dominated by patriarchal influence, which has dictated the role of women since ancient times. Despite this, one can argue that the role of women has improved drastically as their significance has become much more important. Nowadays, it is considered socially acceptable for women to be breadwinners, especially following World War II, and pursue their independence. This was a notion that was ridiculed and generally perceived as unattainable. Debatably, there are still some women who disagree with women working outside of the home, claiming that it brings harm to the traditional family structure; this often ties into arguments on societal gender roles.
The question then evolves into what we consider to be masculine and feminine. Norms and standards are determined by what society deems to be acceptable of each gender, thereby creating identities that are often socially constructed outside of biological makeup. Men are considered aggressive and dominant, while women are considered to be nurturing and submissive. It is argued that, by adhering to and buying into societal norms, men and women prevent the cultivation of naturally occurring gender roles and norms.
Within this construct, the evolution of sexism becomes problematic and the role of women is devalued; society determines that certain qualities a woman might possess are unfeminine and thus unbecoming, thereby presenting a nonconformist persona that is met violently with those who follow strict societal standards and norms. However, the roles of both men and women are evolving in today’s society having become more egalitarian and less restricted with fewer gender-specific expectations.
Taylor’s piece speaks to a number of dualities with women and their responsibilities. “What to Do?” subscribes to the duality of women being both vulnerable and strong, rich in spirit and poor in economic standing. Arguably, one can interpret this piece as a woman carrying a burden.
This woodcut stands strong with intricate and purposefully cut lines defining the depth of its intended meaning. The message that exudes from this piece speaks to the struggle and astounding strength that this woman has displayed in her life – of being disadvantaged but having to display great strength. The roundness of her belly invites viewers who are expecting or those women who have experienced pregnancies to relate to the endless questions, doubts and fears that arise in relation to motherhood and the child’s future. The reality of this piece is prevalent and mirrored in the Bahamian society, as there are far too many who are unsure of where to turn to for provisions for their children, let alone themselves.