Heather Doyle-Maier

artist’s book: stained paper, transparency, muslin, thread

I have struggled all my life to own my identity as a woman. Many women who came of age after the 1970s women’s movement have struggled similarly, with traditional women’s roles no longer a rigid limitation yet more inclusive roles offering no easy solutions. Images of women have undergone a similar struggle, with traditional representations no longer satisfactory yet alternatives only beginning to be established.

One focus of my art has been conveying the physical experiences uniquely possible to women: menstruation and menopause, pregnancy and birth, miscarriage and abortion. I have been intrigued by the possibilities of vaginal imagery, by the folds and layers and the sense of a hidden inner experience. First Generation Feminist artists utilized this imagery to celebrate a “secret space” inside all women: the life-giving womb, rich with metaphoric and literal possibility. For survivors of sexual violation, however, this space is often filled with other, painful secrets. It is a site of traumatic reality, not symbolic celebration.

My recent work reveals journeys to reclaim the ownership of this most private of women’s spaces, to transform “secret” into “sacred.” By combining vaginal-type imagery with text in non-traditional formats, I have sought to make visible both the issue of sexual trauma and the potential for its healing.

© Heather Doyle-Maier