Her relationship with her husband and her relationship to stepmotherhood has informed Elizabeth’s work–which I love for its amazing fusion of the ethereal, the representational, and the symbolic–in fundamental ways. For her MFA thesis show (www.massartedgrad.org), she put together a powerful and thought-provoking group of works in a number of media–ink on paper and cheesecloth, wood, recycled aluminum, plaster. She’s better at discussing her work than I am so I will let her descriptions of this first piece, “Reality” (a repeated and fading image of a wedding dress) speak for themselves.
Elizabeth on “Reality” (ink on paper, 2008):
Ahhh yes….the wedding dress. Since I was about 9, I have thought and thought and thought about what my dress would look like, who I would marry, how many kids I would have, where I would live. I had so many expectations and I really believed they would all come true. The dress was my great-aunt’s. She gave it to my mom and my mom gave it to me. The dress represents the expectations of marriage that are so often handed down from generation to generation. I was happy and willing to buy into those expectations. And that is one of the things which has made it hard for me to come to grips with my situation sometimes. Things I thought I would have I will never have. I will never have a husband who has only said, “I do” to me. I will never be able to say that my husband is my husband and mine only. It is all too painfully tattooed in my mind and soul that my husband was another woman’s husband for 10 years. Sometimes that hurts me so badly, I can hardly breathe. Even just thinking of my wedding day – we went to Vegas and got married – just the two of us – I see the complication that exists when part of a step family. I wore a black shirt and shorts. No dress. And while I know it was the right decision for me and I would not have done it any other way being in the situation I’m in, it still leaves me with some pain.
I wanted to get married that way, because I wanted that day to be about my husband and me. I knew if we did a big, traditional wedding, the day would no longer be about the two of us, it would be about the four of us…me, my husband and his daughter and son. It would not have been the two of us standing up there, it would have been all four of us, pledging to be the “perfect” family. And I was not willing to sacrifice my wedding day. I would sacrifice the dress, the cake, the dancing…and I’ve continued to sacrifice a lot for my husband and my step kids….but I would not sacrifice that. Even now as I write this, I’m thinking, “Does this make me a horrible person? If someone read this, would they think I am a witch?” And you know, yes, there would be some who would think that…but oh well. They are not me and they do not know what I go through on a daily basis.
The only regrets I have are in regards to my family. I know I hurt my mom and dad very much, by going and getting married without them and as I sit here, my eyes well up, knowing I caused them pain. But I had to do what was right for me and I see now how much I have to do that as a stepmom – I am always fighting and nudging to get myself heard and make myself matter. That is why the dress in this piece fades. My reality is not the expectations of my great aunt or my mother. That can be equal parts painful and liberating.