- Broom and Vagina, photos of original art © 2004 Rae Atira-Soncea.. All rights reserved.
In This Issue
Listening to the Medium - The Art of Rae Atira-Soncea
About two and a half years ago, after a Summer Solstice ritual, I found myself at a loud restaurant sitting across from a woman I had never seen before. By that time I'd lived in Madison for almost two years, and when I noticed a woman I hadn't encountered before in Goddess community, she was usually a shy newcomer who was looking around sheepishly for someone to talk to.
Not this woman. She was bold and brassy and had a rich, full laugh that rang out above the din of the room. She was immediately likeable and I found myself making room in my heart for this stranger who I felt I'd known for years. After a while I leaned across the table and said to her "I don't know how else to say this, but who are you and where have you been?" Again she laughed and said "I'm Rae." Over the next hour or so I learned Rae's story from her and also from all the women around us who had known and loved her for years.
After that night I began to see more of Rae at rituals, events, concerts and gatherings. Every once in a while I would hear her or someone else talk about her art. The topic that caught my ear was brooms. Every time she talked about her brooms, I would imagine the beautiful folk art brooms that I, and every witch I know, display proudly on our walls. I finally decided I just might want one of these brooms and naively asked Rae how much she sold them for. Out poured the golden laughter and she told me "people don't usually buy my art. Besides, most people don't have the space to display them." "Don't have space to display a broom?" I thought, and didn't ask any more questions for fear of appearing foolish.
So last autumn rolled around and I kept hearing that Rae was getting ready for a new show. I was unable to attend the reception, so when a friend and I went to see the show, we had the gallery to ourselves. As I walked into the wide open, industrial room, in front of me, and towering above me, was this Broom. I was stunned into an awe-filled and reverential silence as I took in the nine-foot height and considerable heft of this sacred totem. As I stood there admiring the curves and symbols and detail, I finally understood about the Art of Rae Atira-Soncea.
Little Girls Don't Make Art
When asked about where she finds support for
her art making, Rae talks about two groups of women who have been invaluable
in her development. In the late 70s and early 80s she was involved in
the Iowa City Stichin' Bitchin' and Witchin' Circle. She tells me, "We
would get together several Sundays a month and work on art and talk, and
then we would have a big ritual and feast." More recently, in Madison,
she has worked with the same group of women artists for over fifteen years.
"These women have laughed and cried and supported me in all kinds
of ways in all kinds of situations," she says, "I could never
have made it through grad school without them." Is it any wonder,
then that Rae's current fascination has to do with the idea that "women
mystics come to the place of mysticism, or fire in the head, through their
relationships with others or community, while men tend to get there on
a journey in solitude?"
Brooms and Thirteen-inch Vaginas
On the more practical side, she says "My struggle is always with finding accessible studio space. Art is very expensive. I've spent an incredible amount of money creating art, and people don't want to spend money on women's art. They want you to find a cheap way to give it to them, and it's not valued. On occasion I sell pieces, but most of my art is created and waiting for its next place to go and be viewed. That's another thing about the art that I make -- it's so politically challenging and often too big to be shown. I don't make pretty little water colors that you can put on the wall, I make nine foot brooms and 13 inch copper vaginas, it scares men and makes women cry. People don't like to have people crying in their gallery." She laughs.
When I asked her what she felt was her greatest accomplishment as an artist, Rae said "I don't feel I have a greatest accomplishment, I'm not even sure I quite buy the idea as art as an accomplishment. To me it's like living and breathing; when I don't make art I'm not happy and nobody likes me. I'm much more balanced and positive when I have access to making art. I think philosophically, I believe that the process of making is what holds the earth together, whether it's making love or making bread or making babies or making art, it's part of the process that maintains the world. We should never discourage anyone from making, or creating, or engaging the body-mind in that dance or that flower arrangement because it does two things: It makes the person sane, and it keeps the world going."
I couldn't have said it better myself.