Posts Tagged ‘women’


I went to the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln Friday to see what New England women had been doing with abstract art since 1950.

I was drawn to the painting above, and no wonder. It turned out to be Cynthia Bloom’s way of seeing New Shoreham, Rhode Island, my favorite place in the smallest state. The explanatory text says the artist “incorporated the natural materials and textures she found there into her work, including dried petals and butterfly wings.”

The gigantic heart sculpture looks sweet enough from a safe distance, but when you get close to Jim Dine’s “Two Big Black Hearts” (1985) and see all the broken tools, horseshoes, ladies shoes, etc., smashed roughly into the surface, you may feel a chill.

What’s nice is that on a summer’s day, you can walk in the shady woods on the deCordova grounds and see art along the paths. The serene head is “Humming,” by Jaume Plensa (2011), and the more abstract piece is “Maiden’s Dream,” by Isaac Witkin (1996). That one makes me ask, “Is it a good dream?”

After spending time on the grounds and in the galleries, I took the elevator to the roof deck and photographed the romantic turrets of what was once the home of art collector Julian de Cordova (1851-1945). I don’t think I had ever been on the roof before. The view over Flint’s Pond is amazing.


072117-Jim-Dine sculpture-decordova

072117-Plensa- sculpture-in-decordova-woods




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Photo: Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe
Malika MacDonald is director of the Amal Women’s Center, which provides shelter for Muslim women and children in need of temporary housing.

When I was working at the central bank, we had a Hubert Humphrey Fellow visit us from Bahrain. One aspect of America she was studying was homelessness. She said there was no homelessness in her country. She said families would never let it happen; they would take people in.

Having no way to know whether that was true in every case, I was nevertheless intrigued. Was it something about the culture in a Muslim country?

One thing I do know is that in this country, alas, Muslim women and children like other women and children, sometimes find themselves in need of temporary housing. That was the impetus for a new center in Boston, the brainchild of an Egyptian-American college student.

Lisa Wangsness wrote about the initiative at the Boston Globe. Here is the part of the article that touched me the most.

“The project began six years ago, when Mona Salem, then a 20-year-old Egyptian-American college student, was trying to help a young Muslim friend who wanted to escape a foster home where she felt unsafe.

“Salem thought her friend would feel most comfortable in a Muslim-run shelter for women, but soon discovered none existed in Boston. So she began raising money to start one, and teamed up with [Malika MacDonald, the national director of the Islamic Circle of North America Relief USA’s Transitional Housing Network.] …

“Donations poured in from every direction. Dishes and pots and pans for the kitchen arrived from families affiliated with the Framingham and Wayland mosques. A man offered his Home Depot credit card to pay for lighting. Various groups and individuals sponsored each of the bedrooms, furnishing them with bright-colored bedding and art for the walls.

“Salem said she was near tears when she saw the finished house the other day.

“ ‘That place was a dump when we first got there, and now it’s beautiful — absolutely beautiful,’ she said. ‘That says a lot about . . . how strong we are as a community to help one another.’

“Help arrived from beyond the local Muslim community as well. An artist in Texas sent an Arabesque Moroccan ceiling medallion for the living room. A board member of the interfaith group Kids4Peace Boston donated a lacquered dining table and banquette. The founder of a planned shelter for transgender people in Indiana sent along bathroom towels, MacDonald said.”

I suspect many of those donors know what it’s like to feel different and look for comfort.

More at the Boston Globe, here.

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After 46 years of marriage, I can say I have a husband who is the same guy he always was, just with more life experience. But among my small circle of friends, including my blog friends, many women are dealing with extraordinary changes.

It may be true that, overall, women are as likely to develop dementia as men (see study) and present their husbands with unexpected caregiving challenges, but so far those stories are not the ones I’m hearing.

A college friend married to a brilliant scientist who has known for some time he was developing Alzheimer’s recently told me, “I finally realized he is completely dependent on me.” She is biting the bullet, reaching out for more helpers and planning an altered future.

Another friend whose husband has dementia made the decision to leave behind all her East Coast activities and relocate to Minnesota, where there is a network of family members. She intends to keep her husband in their new home, which has become a safe place in his mind. When her husband no longer recognizes anyone at all, she says, she will get full-time care, move herself out, and come visit him.

I reconnected last month with a high school friend who suffered a bitter divorce decades ago. She told me her ex’s wealthy girlfriend has been able to provide high-quality care for him for the 15-plus years since he was diagnosed with dementia. Although the divorce is still raw enough that there are topics my friend can’t discuss with her children, she goes to the Alzheimer’s facility regularly to read to her ex. She wants to become a better person.

Dementia has not been the only challenge for women I know. In one case, after a relative discovered her husband’s multiyear dalliance with a blackmailing call girl (and he then suffered a physical and emotional collapse), the wife made heroic efforts to rebuild the shattered relationship. A year later, they are both enjoying life together a little more every day.

Then there is the friend whose husband’s rare disease progressed to the point that he can no longer be left alone. She has had friends come in for an hour or two so she can shop for groceries and walk the dog, but the cost of a few hours coverage from a trained home-health-care aide has to be parceled out frugally as this friend has lost one income, is trying to build a home-based career, and needs to pay for two children’s colleges.

I can’t say enough about how much I admire these women who are rising to meet unanticipated disruption despite their sorrow and fear.

Art: William Utermohlen
In 1995, U.K.-based artist William Utermohlen was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He created a series of self-portraits over five years, before his death in 2007. (Caution: This is the first in the series. The others may be painful.)


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Photo: Jessica Hinchliffe/ABC Brisbane
The women of Queensland’s Spice Exchange create different spice blends to sell. 

This happy refugee story is from Australia, another country where refugees make valuable contributions, in this case sharing their beautiful foods and recipes with the broader population.

Jessica Hinchliffe writes at ABC Brisbane, “A social enterprise in Queensland is helping refugee and migrant women gain employment and foster community spirit through cooking.

“The Spice Exchange sees these enterprising women come together to create spice blends, condiments and gingerbread. They use recipes and spices well known in their home countries.

“Backed by Access Community Services, the social enterprise in Logan, south of Brisbane, also helps the women practise their English-speaking skills.

“Many of those involved are single women with dependent children, with limited education and literacy skills.

“Organiser Tianna Dencher said the Spice Exchange was helping these women, who sometimes felt isolated, find their voice. …

” ‘We saw that these women were comfortable with food and we decided to create something that would engage women around food.

” ‘Many of the women had such great cultural diversity, had beautiful cuisines that had spices … that’s how we started.’

“The program also teaches the women about workplace culture, marketing and how to price products. …

“Adhel Mawien Ukong began with the Spice Exchange in September and said the program provided her with opportunities for her and her children.

” ‘I’ve learnt so much,’ she said. ‘I start at 9:00 am and finish at 2.30 pm, and it’s given me a job four days a week and it’s helped us.

I love it so much so I come here every day of the week sometimes, and I’ve invited other women to join me.’ “

More here.

Hat Tip to @VictoriaLynden on twitter.

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The Concord Museum has an exhibit on dollhouses right now, and I walked over to check it out. I’ve always liked dollhouses and even sought out one for Suzanne  when she was in utero.

At the museum, children were playing happily with the sturdy contemporary dollhouse they were allowed to touch, but I suspect the people most intrigued by the glassed-in displays from the Strong Museum and various private collectors were the adults.

The Concord Museum is a history museum, and so I was less troubled by the accurate recreation of inequality in the miniature scenes than by the lack of relevant commentary in the placards. I couldn’t help thinking, for example, that some of the black schoolchildren who pass through the museum might be troubled by one dollhouse and might appreciate some discussion of the life of the servants in the attic and kitchen. But the placard was silent about wealth, poverty, and the legacy of slavery.

Another aspect of social history that seems fundamental to a discussion of dollhouses involves the many women who created them as a hobby.

Women who had servants in the attic and the kitchen were not folding the laundry. They were not cooking or tidying up. They were not raising their children. They did not have jobs. In short, they had almost nothing useful to do — a recipe for depression.

I often wonder about the psychological constraints that kept such women from giving themselves permission to go out into the world, as Jane Addams or Beatrix Potter did, each in her own way.

If making exquisite little worlds at home gave the dollhouse creators and their friends and families pleasure, that is a great thing in itself. If it represents a determination to create something fine when hardly any meaningful activity was allowed, then that is an even greater thing.

The dollhouse exhibit is up through January 15. Related events may be found here.



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In Tanzania, women farmers appearing on a TV show called in English “Female Food Heroes” are bringing attention to the importance of their work and the barriers to expansion.

Oxfam America reporter Coco McCabe writes about contestant Edna Kiogwe, “She grew up in a farming family and knows well the hurdles they face, especially women farmers who, in her country, own only a small fraction of the land. …

“It’s that inequality — and the lost opportunities buried beneath it — to which Kiogwe and 14 other women farmers helped to bring attention this year as contestants in the fifth season of a highly popular reality TV show shot in Tanzania and aired across East Africa. Called Mama ‘Shujaa wa Chakula ,’ or ‘Female Food Heroes,’ the Oxfam-sponsored show celebrates the vital contributions women farmers make in feeding the planet, and highlights the challenges many encounter on a daily basis, including limited access to land, credit, and training opportunities. …

“In the village of Kisanga, where ‘Mama Shujaa wa Chakula’ was filmed [in 2015], the 15 contestants learned a great deal about the struggles local farmers face in feeding their families. Each of the women stayed with a village family for the duration of the three-week shoot, and daily contests included designing tools that could be useful to Kisanga farmers, interviewing them about their agricultural challenges, and putting together skits to help bring attention to those hurdles. …

“Kiogwe [now] spends most of her time in Dar es Salaam, a coastal city about a two-and-a-half hour drive away, where she lives and works as a civil servant. But her city life belies her village roots — and her keen interest in farming. Unlike most women in Tanzania, Kiogwe owns her own land, given to her by her forward-thinking father on her wedding day. She harvests corn, cassava, rice, and sugar cane, carefully aligning her 28 days of annual leave from her city job with peak work times on her small farm in the Morogoro region. …

“ ‘I want to make agriculture like a business,’ says Kiogwe. … With a little effort, greater value can be added to the fruits farmers grow, for instance.

“ ‘Change it from fruit to juice, we can sell it … We can add value to maize — maize flour for porridge — and you can have a good label and good packaging and compete with international businesses. That is my dream.’ ” More here.

According to OXFAMCloseup, the nonprofit’s quarterly magazine, the episodes shot in Kisanga, Tanzania, aired in five countries and had 14 million people tune in. The magazine adds, “Versions of the program are now being produced in Ethiopia and Nigeria, and some finalists have become involved in local, national, and even global farmer advocacy.”

Photo: Coco McCabe / Oxfam America
Edna Kiogwe helps her host family with the morning chores in Kisanga, where the TV show “Female Food Heroes” was filmed in 2015.

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Gregg tweeted recently about Robinson Meyer’s Atlantic article on 92-year-old metallurgist Ursula Franklin.

Meyer writes, “It’s hard to describe what Ursula Franklin’s done in her life. There’s just too much.

“The 92-year-old metallurgist pioneered the field of archeometry, the science of dating archaeologically discovered bronzes, metals, and ceramics. Her research into spiking levels of radioactive strontium in baby teeth factored heavily into the U.S. government’s decision to institute a nuclear test ban.

“She delivered the Massey Lectures—an important, annual series of talks delivered by Canadian public intellectuals—in 1989, and she was the first woman to be named University Professor at the University of Toronto, the university’s highest position.

“She was also born in Munich in 1921, and was imprisoned in a Nazi work camp for the last 18 months of the war.”

Meyers’s questions cover much of Franklin’s life, her pacifism, and her trail-blazing for women scientists. It’s a long interview. Here’s a taste.

“Once you were at the University of Toronto … did you see the university change over your time there, and just generally what was it like to be a female professor of engineering during the ’70s and ’80s?”

Franklin answers, “Well, pretty lonely. You know the real difficulty is to protect and advance your women students, and to see that they are in a hassle-free learning environment. When I came to the university, I’d been around long enough to know that I wasn’t one of the gang, and I never would be. I didn’t have a desire to be one of the boys.

“But the great wish—to give my women students a hassle-free, happy learning environment—that’s what’s difficult. The culture of engineering is not a culture of acceptance and understanding of anything that is female and—at the same time—equal. So that’s… that’s a real job. It was a long and hard [work] in this, and it’s by no means yet all done.”

I remember the fuss over strontium 90 in milk. How great to read about this woman ‘s role in uncovering the problem and to see that she is going strong at 92. More at the Atlantic.

Ursula Franklin  photo

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