Ranier Amiel Wood
A few days ago I was shuffling around on the floor of my studio knocking some stretcher bars together and wondering who the canvas I was prepping was going to be for. This is often the case with my paintings, I will know I need to paint, will feel fairly clear on the size and shape of the piece, but I have no idea whom the painting will be of. As I busily hammered and stretched the canvas, my friend’s mom wandered into the studio and asked to use the restroom. She stood there after for a moment as if dazed and I felt the compulsion to show her my art. I didn’t know her well, but knew enough to know she would probably be open to it, so I offered and she accepted.
I started telling her a little about my process and few of the stories behind some of the paintings (there are stacks leaned up against my studio walls). When I looked back at her tears were streaming down her face.
“I need this,” she said as the tears came down. “I have been praying for this. I did not know what it would be, but I have been asking for this.”
Turns out that who had walked into my studio was, unbeknownst to me, the survivor of one of the most horrific stories of trauma, torture and abuse that is humanly possible. The things that were done to her from ages 3-20 are so gut wrenching and inhumane they were hard for my mind to digest. They still are actually. The fact that she is alive and functioning is a testament to her incredible determination, hard work (she will tell you she has been doing ‘her work’ for 20 years), and her extraordinary tenacity of hope. The fact that she was able to raise a really great man who is my dear friend is honestly something of a miracle to me.
Needless to say, the canvas I was stretching was clearly for her.
A few days later we started our process together. We created sacred space and talked and drew all morning, then again in the afternoon. Normally the Witnessing process will last two hours or so, but this was not a ‘normal’ situation. Over the weekend she came in to write and draw all over her raw canvas alone and I went in afterwards to gesso (a white primer paint used on raw canvas) overtop. My whole body was shaking by the time I finished. I found myself praying out loud with each brushstroke to anything that would listen. As I did, it was as if all the other women, from all the other paintings in the room (and beyond?), were standing around me, helping. Holding her, holding me, holding space. Wild stuff.
When we started the painting of her actual pussy a day later, it was one of the most surprisingly joyous mornings I’ve ever had in my studio. Though there was still the grip of horrid memories that would come up in her like poisonous bubbles from the depths, we found ourselves laughing and talking and eating lots and lots of chocolate. Asking her questions about her pussy and who she was and what she (her pussy) liked, lit her up and made her laugh, and by the end we were both surprised to see a canvas COVERED in bright color. It looked like it was attacked by fun. That was the only way I could think to describe it. It looked like her, as a little girl, or who she would have been as a little girl, had that experience not been robbed from her. It was the first layer of the painting and it was her essence. It was beautiful.
I then had to go teach a fitness class and she stayed in the studio and danced and finished writing on the side edges of the canvas that she had not gotten to before. When I came back in, bright eyed and sweaty, the room was thick and heavy again. The whimsical colors from the morning were framed with words like ‘torture’ and ‘rape’ and ‘I was just a little girl’. My stomach clenched and my hands went to my heart. Oof.
We stood there for some time looking at these beginnings on the canvas as I tried to grapple with the fact that all of this exists in the same world. It seems impossible to me that torture and first kisses can exist in the same reality, really just paper shades away from each other. That there is rape and there are sunsets. Sociopaths and my son’s laughter. Same world. Fucking hell. Beyond grappling with that, is the pleading question of what do I DO? What does anybody do? How can you heal a soul that’s been fragmented? How do we heal a culture? The experts can, and have written volumes on these topics. But I’m also starting to think we each have our unique answer. To quote a woman I love, the place where ‘our deep gladness meets the world’s great need’ really resonates with me. As absolutely bizarre as it may sound on a date or in a conversation with my grandma, this project, my paintings of women’s pussies, answers that call. To get to witness a woman, in her most vulnerable, hold space for her story, and create a thing of beauty from all of that, is such an extraordinary honor and adventure for me. The fact that it can also be deeply healing for them, and impactful to the people who see it, is something I’m deeply grateful for.
I don’t think I fully understood the power of beauty until I saw those colors stand up against those words that day. I have known that what I do can be very potent, and have experienced beauty as a form of nourishment in my own life, but I didn’t get that beauty could be an agent of activism until that moment. It was not trivial or superficial or un-essential as we often categorize beautiful things. It was fierce. It was essential. More than that, it was who she was, at the core of her, and it was healing. This was just the beginning of her painting and our process together, but already it has showed me so much and I am so grateful. Grateful for the lessons, grateful for her trust, grateful that whatever it was that came into me to make me do this project did.
I have been brought to my knees time and time again with this project. It has broken me apart and remade me, each painting taking me deeper than the one before. It has been wild, intricate, and messy stuff. But each time I find myself on my knees I look down and find a paintbrush in my hands and more often than not will look up to find a woman who is choosing to trust me with her life. And I could not be more grateful than to sit with her, and make a thing of beauty.
See Ranier's Work in Person and Support her Campaign!
Ranier has just launched her Hatchfund campaign to support her art practice. Contributions are tax deductible and there are beautiful perks and benefits to contributing to this wonderful artist. Check out her campaign to learn more.
Showing of her recent work will take place at TEMPLE+TRIBE on November 6th at 6pm (1703 Lena street). See Vulvere.org for more details.