Credit Line: Gift of Diane Greenlee for Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women in Politics. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
Almost all of my work refers to women--women at work, mothers and daughters, women tied together generationally. I had this old photograph from 1946 or 1948 of two sisters, the older carrying the younger on her back. And it made me think that that's a kind of woman's relationship, that we lean on each other, carrying each other, teaching each other. I think the image shows kinship; that's why I call it Sisters.
On the surface it's straightforward--two young girls, smiling. I don't know who they are or when or where the photograph was taken, so I have added other images, to give it more layers of meaning, to give them a story. The image is real, but there is a lot of abstraction in it. I used a wash to give a kind of movement in the background, one more layer of meaning, of time passing. Then I added details, many more layers. The Chinese calligraphy overlaying everything is from my son's exercise books when he was six or eight years old. In the Chinese system, student workbooks use a grid in which the characters are written. I think of them as a kind of boundary. On top of his writing, the teacher has made checkmarks and corrections. The writing is from children's stories, simple stories about tadpoles and a camel and little bees. Those are the kind of stories all cultures tell children. We think children are so close to nature, so that's the kind of stories we tell. And so I've also placed birds and insects in the image.
The calligraphy plate was printed last, and there's a little silver in the color. The silver and graphite printed on the dark black background show up against the children's hair like negative and positive. It's a kind of veil or screen on top, which pushes the image back physically and also back in time. The work becomes a memory.