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The second set of patterned walls contains various passages of text, such as “Women dream of trespassing into the world of men” and “Women dream of sprouting wings to fly over the walls.” The text on the innermost walls continues this theme of flying in a hopeful and optimistic tone: “Whenever you feel like flying, think about how and where you’ll end up. Do not think about the take off. A woman’s chief problem is figuring out how to land.” In the center of the opened boxes lies a single feather.

Although Women Dream relies on Arabic motifs and words, the artist states that the themes of this work represent the restrictions on women everywhere, and of all faiths, who are faced with patriarchal systems. Even as more and more women become empowered by breaking down the walls that bar them from equality, there is still resistance, and even attempts to reconstruct the barriers that have already been broken.

In Women Dream, once the walls have fallen down, they can be put back in place, but it is not easy. One hopes that, like this book, the confining and restricting walls in life are as difficult to rebuild.

The definition of insanity has varied throughout history, by culture and by geography. From the ancient Greeks’ opinion that madness was caused by an imbalance of bodily humors to the 18th century judgment that epilepsy and speech impediments constituted mental illness, the criteria for insanity have evolved from superstition and prejudice to a more humane and science-based approach. Maureen Cummins explores the topic of insanity in two books, Crazy Quilt and Anatomy of Insanity.

Crazy Quilt is a book whose title goes beyond the usual meaning of a coverlet made from scraps of fabric fitted and stitched together in a random or “crazy” pattern. Here Cummins has used the derogatory connotation of the word to illustrate the experiences of fifteen 19th and 20th century women who were institutionalized in mental hospitals.

Square pages of decorative fabric-like patterns open and unfold in the manner of a quilt. Each page contains text resembling embroidered stitchery that displays a diary entry of an actual woman who was confined in an institution. One of the most telling entries is from the short story The Yellow Wallpaper written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, an early feminist activist and writer who suffered from a difficult post-partum depression.

This excerpt reflects the prevailing recommendation for female sanity in the late 19th century: “He sent me home with this prescription: Live as domestic a life as possible. Lie down an hour after each meal. Have but two hours intellectual life a day. And never touch pen, brush or pencil as long as you live.”

Crazy Quilt
Maureen Cummins

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