I wrote this piece to hang on the wall next to the Basho series...it has already led to several deep conversations, since so many people have someone they know who has gone through breast cancer.....
In 2003 I was diagnosed with breast cancer, underwent the standard treatment, (surgery, chemo, radiation), and began living with the spectre of cancer in my life. I read that Anna Halprinn calls the experience of having cancer and facing ones own mortality, “as enlightenment at gunpoint”. I found that to be an apt metaphor for my feelings as well. In my case it also gave me the opportunity to see making art (visual art in my case) not as just a way of self expression, but also as a path to healing.
My first effort in that direction was to name some small amulets I had just begun making as “guardian spirits”. I had made the first one just a few months before my diagnosis and often wonder about their coming into my life at just that point.
The fiber and bead amulets were in the shape of the “hamsa” hand of the mideast that are used as amulets against bad luck or evil spirits. I added a small face and hands and breasts (almost all my guardians have been female) and a necklace for those who want to wear them, and began to sell and give them away. I sold them in the galleries that carried my beaded jewelry and gave away a few to folks who had been diagnosed with cancer or other life threatening illnesses.
Three years later I realized that I needed to take another step toward self healing. The amulets were for protection but I wanted to heal myself, to help my body get back into balance...to go from defense to offence. I didn’t want to sit and wait for cancer to attack again....I wanted to make myself a very unwelcoming host.
One of the best ways of dealing with anxiety and stress for me is to make art, so I was looking for something I could relate to healing and ran across a short quote from Basho regarding his journey, in 1689, to the northern interior of Japan. This led me to the translation of the book made by Sam Hamil in 1991. In his translation, I read that the title of the book referred both to the physical journey Basho made, and to the spiritual journey that went step by step with the actual road he traveled. I felt a strong connection to the idea of a spiritual journey and decided to make a series of bead embroideries that related both to Basho’s journey and to mine. His trip had been separated into 44 different sections, loosely based on the towns he reached each night, so I decided to make 44 different 4x4 inch bead embroideries.
I started collecting fabric ( I work most of my bead embroideries on cotton batik fabrics backed by a heavier pellon for support) in December of 2006 and started beading the first piece in January 2007. I finished the series in July 2008.