Back to the Bags

The aim of the Women Writers Collection is to value expressions of women’s lived experience as art by re-envisioning the vitality of cultural exchange between women across temporal and cultural divides. My intent is to erode the boundary between institutionalized “Culture” and popular culture by invigorating the ubiquitous symbol of the handbag with a concept of wealth that reaches beyond the monetary. While handbags have been gendered as almost exclusively feminine since the beginning of the nineteenth century, today they also connote sexuality, wealth, and power in Western culture. Think of the logo craze fueled by manufacturers like Prada, Dior, and Fendi. This myopic focus on the ways the logo of a bag denotes social status and financial power blinds us to how handbags function as an oasis of private architectural space in an otherwise public environment. The handbag is literally a repository of our identities, our credentials, and our secrets. In short, they are a microcosmic metaphor of the self.

     The complexities of recording personal identity, of writing biography and autobiography, have always fascinated me. I embraced the flexibility of my medium to explore the ways that fictional and factual identities contribute to a conversation begun in 1928, when Virginia Woolf famously pondered the relationship between women and fiction, between the woman artist and her art. Rather than “a room of their own,” each of the artists and characters I have chosen to commemorate have been given a bag of their own - a tiny parcel of private space. How this personal landscape is shaped engages questions about the living preservation of women’s literary history; the resonance between an artist’s life and her work; the record of the complex dynamics of that relationship; and, the impact of art on our senses of self and cultural worth.