Friday, April 5, 2013

What Will Your Legacy Be?



Over the past month, I have been thinking about my late, dear friend, Barbara England. She suffered with bi-polar disease, and eventually lost her battle with  mental illness, and died in the 80s. She had me helped greatly with her love, compassion and understanding, at a time when I myself was struggling emotionally, and mentally after the sudden death of my new husband, due to schizophrenia, during my last year at NSCAD between 1979-1980. She was not only a wonderful friend, but truly, one of my greatest mentors as a woman, and as an artist.

Barbara England was a Masters of Fine Arts student, and at the forefront of the feminist movement at NSCAD. We were both involved with the women's group at the school. She'd written and presented a very important, and unfortunately unpublished paper, entitled An Examination of Masculism at NSCAD,  that catapulted many of us young women involved in activism, art, and feminist issues during the 70s at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. The paper now is archived in the NSCAD library, and I believe was presented to the President of the University, Garry Kennedy from the Woman's Group, at that time.

I wanted to write a post about Barbara England, to express just what she meant to me, and to share with others the legacy she left. I wasn't sure what I was going to write, but I began to contemplate and consider the legacies we all leave, and ask myself what is the legacy I want to leave?

Several attempts to find out any information about Barbara England, left me empty handed, until finally I found pdf file " The Maple Leaf" where she is attributed with writing this unpublished paper.

"Of course, at the time, this denigration of women artists was hardly particular to NSCAD. It is not a proud part of its history, as Garry Kennedy has recently acknowledged when noting that the stinging rebuke sent by telegram from New York for not including any women at the College. While some improvements in the representation of women were made in the 1970s by the time the Lithography Workshop closed in 1976 the number of women participants remained dismal (six out of a total of 79, or 7.6%) and by the late 1970s, only two women were on the regular studio faculty. The real impetus for change came instead from the circulation of an unpublished paper written in 1976 by MFA student Barbara England and entitled " An Examination of Masculism at NSCAD." This text galvinized students to demand changes resulting in a symposium " Women In Art " in July 1978 and the appointment of Dara Birmbaum and Martha Rosler as spring term faculty in 1979. Roseler who supplied a vigorous female critique of both art and its institutions were especially infleuential. The students also successfully lobbied for the hiring of full-time faculty members in the early 1980s and for the increased presence of women in the Visitors Program."
                                     - Jane Wark
                                       Department of Historical and Critical Studies
                                       NSCAD 

 It saddens me to think about the legacy Barbara England left  NSCAD, and very few  even know who she is, and what she contributed to the art world. I also found the following information from an interesting compilation about NSCAD, by Bruce Barber entitled, NSCAD-The 80s.

"Among the women ( many of them MFA students) associated with the production of feminist work in the 80s were Barbara England who produced a Date book as her MFA Exhibit in 1976, a diary with dictionary actions/statements. "

I sat on thoughts about Barbara England and legacy until last night. I was sleepless, listening as usual, to international radio programming, as I often do. This programming can be very educational and informative but by times, can also be very disturbing. The alarming reality of what is happening throughout the world invades my consciousness in my semi-wakened state. I will more than likely not remember all of what I have listened to, unless it really stands out in my mind. This is just what happened last night, when I heard about Giles Duley. I knew I had to remember his name in the morning, and proceed to do a search on line to find out about this remarkable man, and talented photographer who is certainly leaving his own legacy.

Thinking about what makes a life worth while, what legacies are left behind when we leave this mortal coil, and how very grateful I am to have had several people that have touched me with the legacy they have left behind. I will never will forget them. That said, people shouldn't mean more to us after they have died. It seems to be human nature, that you don't know what you've got til it's gone, like Joni Mitchell said in her song. It certainly doesn't have to be this way, especially if we choose to love, appreciate who we have, and what we have, in the present moment. What a better world it would be, if we did so.

Artists are more often than not, dead and long gone before people appreciate them unfortunately. It is very important I believe, to pay close attention, and take notice of people and artists when they are alive, because many have important life lessons to convey about who we are as human beings. Giles Duley for me is one such inspiring human being and artist, who is very much alive and living life to the fullest. His very close brush with death has given him a strong will to live, to thrive, and I believe reflects his deep gratitude and appreciation for life. He imparts this in his portrayal of his subject matter, of those that have a story of life to tell. Giles Duley enables this story to be told, portraying those who suffer, and have suffered profoundly, which is seen in his very moving and powerful photographs.

"These photographs remind us of our humanity and of the need for understanding and compassion if we want a peaceful world and a just one. The great English poet John Donne once wrote, 'No man is an island.... any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.'
What he said in words, Duley's compelling photographs tell us in pictures. They are a must for anyone who values the unity, tragedy and potential of the human condition."

Rt Hon. Lord Ashdown


What is the legacy I wish to leave as an artist? I hope to leave this world a more peaceful one, a more just world, through understanding, compassion and love.

Today I also am thinking about about my fellow friend of Bill W., Roger E. who  took his "leave of presence" and certainly left his legacy.


2 comments:

Indigene Theresa said...

I can only imagine the amazing women artists that we've never heard of! Thanks for allowing us to remember and to "RECOGNIZE!"

Catherine Meyers said...

Thank you Indigene.

Yes I feel the same. As least now with the internet we have a a way to access some of this information and a way to document our own work.. I was so happy to find the little bit that I did about my friend Barbara England. One of our mutual friends, I'd lost touch with, who now lives in Louisiana and is a Performance Poet. She didn't even know Barbara had died, and had been looking for her. I was sorry to have to tell her the news. But we are in touch and I will do a post about her. She is another gem I've re-discovered because of the internet!