Breaking Boundaries, Transcending Art, Feminist Innovator
Posted: April 2012
I was born in Ann Arbor Michigan in 1952. My mother had grown up in Baltimore, Maryland, and my father, Jack Gerald Weinbaum, was from Brooklyn. They met at a fraternity house in Johns Hopkins - he was there on a date with someone else, she was in the kitchen doing the dishes--he came in to help her.. and the rest is history.
When I was three the family trekked in our station wagon to Terre Haute, Indiana, where I spent my childhood. Always into something dangerous, I recall climbing an apple tree in the backyard of our home and running off on a horse with a girlfriend. We went off on the country roads and ran wild, eventually riding our horse to a drive-in in the city, where we ordered hamburgers and milkshakes and a carrot for our horse We got back after dark to find our parents and police had been frantically looking for us.
This and other of my unusual escapades was conducive to my being shipped off to Kingswood School Cranbrook boarding school at age sixteen.There I studied sculpture, made a metal horse and discovered my artistic talent and passion for art.
From Kingswood I went to Hampshire College to study photography, then to Boston where I worked in the Ferranti Dege photography store and earned a Leica. I then traveled through Latin America as a documentary photographer. My first photographs appeared in the magazine, Second Wave.
After I experienced Salvador Allende's Unidad Popular socialist movement in Chile I returned to the States, where I wrote my first book, The Curious Courtship of Women's Liberation and Socialism.
In New York City I had fabulous jobs, including being secretary to Gael Greene, the New York Magazine's food critic; to Phyllis Chesler, author of Women and Madness, and as an organizer for the Political Education and Action Committee of the Union of Radical Political Economics.
Around this time my orthodox Jewish grandfather in Brooklyn became ill and , while working at Brooklyn College for Project Chance, a return-to-college program of the Women's Center and the Women's Studies Program, I took care of him. I did much public speaking , putting together economic consciousness-raising discussions for connections at the National Council of Churches and the Grail women of the Catholic women's community, a sort of counterpart of the Jesuits, with whom I clicked tremendously. I also developed a theory of *kin categories in the economy and published another book, Pictures of Patriarchy.
In NYC I studied writing with Alix Kates Shulman and Marguerite Young, and began publishing fiction and poetry. My first fiction was Story of the Incested Daughter, an unpublished 1,200 page novel, in John Crawford's West End Review. I frequented the Women's Salon, and published in Heresies, and later in the Education and the Community Arts issues. A monthly discussion and support group grew out of my participation in MFII, looking for connections between Marxism and feminism. I performed poetry and was filmed in the Women's Café by Lizzie Borden for Born in Flames, theorizing about revolution from the tower of the Daughters of Jacob geriatric home in Coney Island. My father had lived there as a child when it was the Half Moon Hotel.
I then left New York and lived in cabins in the woods in the Woodstock area and in Vermont. There I wrote Bapka in Brooklyn. Susanna Sturgis published this novella in Tales in a Minor Key: Magical Realism by Women, and later The Island of Floating Women: A Collection of Stories.
At SUNY Buffalo in the 80's I studied music and ethnomusicology and that took me to Hawaii, where I lived on the beach in Maui and began painting from myths. I would use the paintings, mostly done on beaches or by waterfalls, as musical scores to compose music. I later recorded that and other music during a performance at SUNY on an 18-foot concert grand piano, intent on trying to discover the exact note to bring down the patriarchy. With a piano in the back of my truck I'd go to nature spots, compose music, and then drive to strategic intersections to play the music, hopefully to disrupt patriarchy.
This led to an extended performance of what I called Earth Wheels, from the Seneca Women's Peace Encampment. Someone would drive the truck around the military encampment seven times while in the back, I played the music. We'd stop in front of the gate, get out bamboo sticks and other natural instruments and dance the ancient hula -- trying to break the gate through dance and song. Some of the women would jump the gate and get arrested.
At that time I was also doing house concerts and workshops of matriarchal music. I would bring instruments and invite women to play and direct sound through visualization of their favorite places in the world. They would discover they had the ability to make sound, and to direct and compose music. I also did concerts with instruments from the house -- vacuum cleaners, blenders, mixers.
As a member of the Vermont Composers Consortium my music would be performed regularly. My theories about matriarchal music were published in a book about contemporary composers by Autonomedia called Sounding Off! For the book opening, I drove to the third floor loft in Williamsburg with a truckload of leaves and played my The Earth She is Rocking Us, leading everyone in the chant. I was an artist in residence at University of Illinois Champaign Urbana at the same time as the great composer, John Cage, and we struck up a correspondence. He was very supportive of my intermixing of music and color as I use d paintings for scores.
Alas, my father died and I decided at the age of 35 I'd better get my life together. I wanted to have a child and get a doctorate. I went to Israel to see if I could get pregnant with a mango picker on a kibbutz (or get into a kibbutz to raise a kid communally), but the intifada (a period of unrest between Jews and Muslims) was going on.
This led to my spending many years researching and writing about the Palestinian/Israeli situation. Much was published, most recently the novel The Nightmares of Sasha Weitzwoman, which took 20 years to complete, largely because I actually had the child I set out to have -- which took me down another road…writing books of poetry called Down the Birth Canal and Fragments of Motherhood, a collection of fiction titled Post Modern Motherhood, and founding the Feminist Mothers and Their Allies Task Force (which became a caucus) in National Women's Studies Association.
Homeschooling became worldschooling as I lost my job and began traveling the world with my daughter, writing a doctoral thesis Islands of Women and Amazons: Representations and Realities which explored the history of the myth of the Amazons.
In graduate school in the 80's I studied with Ann Hidalgo, an artist from Chile who worked in the Women's Studies Program at SUNY Buffalo. She introduced me to the Women of Mithila, a city in Ancient India, the capital of the Videha Kingdom, where women made art as a way to propose marriage to men -- making designs in the courtyard of the man to whom they wished to propose. After the proposal, the women swept the courtyard, destroying their art. I began painting from myths, connecting with images of Divine feminine or those made by goddess cultures.
From time to time I sell paintings, and now, I also sell silver jewelry -- as I have turned images from ancient myth from crafts people in Taxco, Mexico into pendants. I also paint on denim jackets and T-shirts, on my walls, on my van. I have an ongoing van painting project where I put out paints wherever I am and let anyone paint what they want -- a collective art project that allows expression and brings smiles to people's faces in the somberness of Cleveland where I currently live.
After getting my doctorate I began to paint seriously again. And in 1998 I got what I still refer to as my first tenure track job at a Midwestern university as assistant professor of English. Later I sued the university for sex discrimination because of my treatment and the university's decision to terminate me, which was in violation of the state laws.
There I went through weeks of termination hearings. I was silenced , unable to speak as testimony of untruths piled up around me. As I listened, to keep quiet, I began to draw, and then to paint. Then gradually, I cleaned out my garage and it became my art studio.
I filed my case in the state Court of Claims in 2004. The case was settled in January 2006 and a judge approved the confidential settlement the university and I reached.
I've published at least seven books, including one on palmistry, and am now working with the image of Asherah, (Asherah , mentioned in early Jewish writings, was a powerful fertility goddess who may have been God's wife.) I'm hoping to to lead a study tour to Jerusalem to vis it sites of this goddess.
Check the web to read more about Batya's fascinating life. Just google Batya Weinbaum... and voila!
* Kin types refer to the basic uncategorized relationships that anthropologist use to describe the actual contents of kinship categories
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