I wept when I heard Phila's story, saying to myself, "I wish I could make you a dress." Acting on this childlike response, I collected discarded blue plastic bags that I sewed into a dress. (The Man Who Sang and the Woman Who Kept Silent, 1995, in Art and Justice: The Art of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, published 2008)I do not really know consciously at what point I realized the power of Phila's act, the power of Judith's art, or the depth of my own desire to recognize in a graphic way the courage of Phila. The image of the blue dress was powerful and I could not get it out of my head. At some point in the process, it also became about the many brave and incredible women who have been silenced in their efforts to create a just world for themselves and their children.
South Africa is not unique: plastic bags cover the landscape of many of our homelands. They are the careless remnants of our disposable societies, easily discarded to blow in the wind, catch in the corners of buildings and gather trash, or wrap themselves round a tree limb or catch in a wire fence. Mason called them the memorials to Phila's courage that were everywhere.
When I finally decided to make another blue dress, it came out of a discussion in my class last fall. It was a response to Phila's story, and to the untold and unknown stories of so many women. I initially created it with the intent to take it to the classroom--the scene of so much co-created learning among us during the last fall. Somehow, once I finally finished my interpretation of the blue dress...I could not yet part with it. I look at it often thinking about the women who are suffocated, both literally and figuratively in many hidden ways. I think about Mason's statement about the ubiquitous plastic bags, filling our trees, fences, oceans as memorials and about what that might mean.