From the weighty Paleolithic breasts of the Venus of Willendorf to the submissively averted eyes of reclining nudes, women’s bodies have always been enticing subjects to depict. Our bodies undoubtedly have an important part in the history of art. Too bad that for a lot of that history, the female form was painted so noblemen could secretly masturbate to these specially commissioned masterpieces in their castles. That probably didn’t do those women any good—especially if they were poor. With her body of work, “Uterus Über Alles!” artist Laura Szumowski gives us the opportunity to help women and trans people take care of their basic physical and psychological needs. For the month of May, if you make a donation to Chicago Women’s Health Center you will receive a riot grrrl inspired piece of art, thus making you a superhuman patron of the arts and health care at the same time. Way cooler than a creepy Renaissance rich dude. To find out more about this great opportunity to be awesome, I asked Szumowski a few questions on your behalf:
Gozamos: Can you please tell us a little bit about Chicago Women’s Health Center and how you are involved with them?
LS: Chicago Women’s Health Center is a health collective that was founded in 1975 on Chicago’s north side. What makes CWHC so unique is its approach to health care. We are committed to making health care accessible to all women and trans people, regardless of their ability to pay. Our goal is to empower clients by providing access to gynecological care, alternative insemination, health education, and counseling services in a respectful environment where people pay what they can afford. While I’ve been a client of CWHC for six years, I became a board member earlier this year and love being a part of what this organization is doing.
So the fundraiser for CWHC is being called the Race for Space. Why the need/desire to move?
LS: The Race for Space is our fundraising campaign to expand and relocate. CWHC has been in its current location for 28 years, and we’ve simply outgrown it. Our main programs – counseling, gynecology, and alternative insemination – have reached full capacity, and there is a growing demand for care. Our new home will double the space we currently have, providing additional room for counseling, clinical exams, and workshops. The new space will be secured by the end of 2011, so it’s a very busy and exciting year!
Uterus Uber Alles! is the name for this collection of work that you are offering up to lovers of art and uteruses alike to fund raise for Chicago Women’s Health Center. What was the inspiration for your title and your aesthetic?
LS: The “Uber Alles” portion of the title was inspired by the punk band Dead Kennedys, and their song “California Uber Alles.” This song was also covered by the Blue Ribbon Glee Club, a Chicago-based punk rock choir that performed at the 2010 Riot Grrrl Cover Band Festival (which was awesome). The “Uterus” portion references CWHC, and their frequent involvement with the uterus and its neighboring parts. It’s meant to be a fun and playful title, and folks seem to be really enjoying it. You can purchase items at www.zoo-mouse-key.com/events/uterus.html
The artwork in the collection gathers its stories and imagery from the riot grrrl movement, an underground feminist punk movement that took place during the 1990s. For an in-depth look at the inspiration behind some of the artwork, please visit my blog post.
What do you feel is the relationship between the riot grrrl movement and CWHC? Is the riot grrrl movement a personal inspiration? (I see that you’re a self-publisher for example.)
LS: The riot grrrl movement and Chicago Women’s Health Center were both inspired by the same goal: empowering women by creating an alternative to the existing model. The riot grrrl movement isn’t a direct personal inspiration for me – I was pretty young when it was taking place in the early 1990s – but it definitely had an impact on zine culture and the DIY community. As a self-publisher, I relate to what women were trying to achieve with the riot grrrl movement. They wanted to get their work out there, but independently and on their own terms. My work centers around women’s health, and the ability of education to empower people. In many ways this is at an intersection with CWHC and the riot grrrl movement.
As a side note, I’m a big fan of several riot grrrl bands, including Le Tigre, Sleater-Kinney, and Bratmobile.
I noticed that one of the items you are offering in exchange for a donation is a flag that we can print ourselves and color at home if we want to. Is that intentionally in keeping with the DIY tendency of the riot grrrl movement? What kind of adventures can we expect from the Riot Grrrill of your comics in exchange for helping CWHC?
LS: Yes, I love the DIY aspect of the mini flag. I don’t typically make art that can be shared and disseminated for free, so it was an exciting challenge. What I came up with were two printable downloads: the Uterus Uber Alles mini flag, and the 8-page minicomic Riot Grrrill. One obvious advantage over the days of the riot grrrl movement: computer and internet access!
Riot Grrrill is exactly what she sounds like: a barbecue grill that’s a riot grrrl. I’m an unapologetic fan of puns, and when this one popped into my head I had to run with it. Riot Grrrill lives what I imagine to be the typical life of a riot grrrl – working at a coffee shop, making zines, going to awesome shows. It’s a little tongue-in-cheek, but she’s a pretty sassy lady.
How else can we help Chicago Women’s Health Center after the fundraiser is over?
As a small grassroots organization we are always seeking financial support. There are so many ways to fund raise: host a house party, organize a benefit, donate to our annual campaign, or sign up to donate monthly… $10 a month is $120 a year.
Also, you can always sign up to volunteer. Volunteerism is at the core of CWHC. Our volunteer program is large and growing. We rely on and appreciate all our volunteers! Currently, many people volunteer to assist us in a variety of ways: administrative help such as answering phones and data entry; web design and development; graphic design, etc.
We also have a wish list of materials we need for classes, outreach events, etc. The list is updated on our website, so check it out. You might just have that extra lamp shade or fax machine lying around we are in need of!
Follow us at facebook.com/ChicagoWomensHealthCenter to see what is happening, we post on upcoming events, advocacy efforts, and reproductive justice news. As always, if you have something else creative in mind, you can always contact us. We are more than happy to work with folks who support what we do.