These first two pieces are about my process of family identity on my father’s side. I wrote them in third-person, I wanted them to be instructional because growing up that is the way the socialization happened regarding about my father’s culture. I was told to do this or that, or not to do this or that and I felt like getting in touch with a part of my family was going to be very difficult, and instructional in that way. It is respectful to do this in our family, not shovey or forceful, its just how we worked with each other.
So this is the voice of myself, at times it’s the voice of my father, or my aunties and uncles, telling me how to get in touch with that, which was not easy. A couple things to acknowledge is the fact that I’m writing in English, not Tamang. I have limited education or stories about my family, but only experience of Nepali family of other castes. The caste has always been important to my knowing of my family. We are Tamang, which is the oldest indigenous people of Nepal. However I have never met another Tamang except for my father, and his brother, I feel very removed. I was raised by Shakyas, which are considered to be more religiously enriched than most Tamangs. Because of that I grew up in a Hindu value system. My dad had a few Sherpa friends, but they were not as family-oriented as the Shakyas we knew.
These pieces are about the parts of my identity that I don’t fufill, or know, and the juxtaposed with the title (things in which I have actually said) in how separated I feel sometimes with my more Western values as my family has described it. I feel a lot of shame, being so disconnected, but I am trying to reflect in positivity and learn about how also being raised in a white society and by a white family tugs on my roots, and reminds me of where I’m from.
These pieces regard food culture, family structure, aesthetics, and sexuality in my cultural identity, juxtaposed with titles of the identity I take on with my peers, and in my home country. Its about feeling in between everything.
“Large-nonfat-soy-no-whip-chai latte (to go)”
Go pick food from the garden,
Mustard greens, bitter melon.
A cup of beaten rice.
The meat you dried yesterday will be good with Aamaas spice.
Work the butter.
The churning makes you sweat,
Droplets fall into your butter.
Ghee from the buffalos floats at the top.
And you scoop it into a pan, and seer the vegetables.
Rolling your food into small portions with your fingers,
And popping it into your mouth.
Have seconds, there is always plenty.
You First, eat.
The black tea, is black.
Your chai is ready, but serve the others first.
Have seconds. Go. But wait for them, first.
The tobacco Baabaa dried is ready,
Packed into a wooden pipe, as long as your leg.
Escaping your lips. The day is done. Now sleep. Go.
“I’m so mad I can’t wear crop tops to work.”
Grow your hair long, and tie it in braids,
Woven with red cloth, and green beads.
Put tika between you eye brows, for focus.
Black makeup around your eyes, to make sure you are safe.
Wear a phuli in your left nostril.
Not the right nostril, that is for men.
When you’re older and can afford it, buy a big bulaki, to wear in your septum.
It will be so big, you will need to move it when you eat,
You will be, so beautiful.
And when you get married, you will have another phuli, bigger than the first,
To secure your marriage.
Like how you rope our buffalos from the snout so they don’t get away.
To work you will wear a long wrapped skirt, and a t-shirt, wrap your hair back too.
For weddings, and holiday, wear a sleeveless dress, a silk shirt.
Don’t wear shoes when you work, because the soil is so tender and cool between your toes.
But now the roads have rocks, wear sandals to go far.
“I’m a Queer-Lesbian-Dyke-Slut-Bratty Bottom-Switch.”
Why did you cut your hair so short?
Who is that girl?
Are you trying to be a boy?
You look like one.
Why would you cut your pretty hair?
Why do you keep putting holes in your body?
Why don’t you want to wear sari like your aunti?
Tsup Lak! “Be quiet”.
Don’t talk like that.
Don’t talk about that.
You can’t watch this.
Are you lesbian or something?
Why is your brother such a girl?
You both turned out so different.
You should get a nice degree.
Let me braid your hair.
You look like a real Nepali girl now.
Judy Chicago (American, b. 1939)
Pasadena Lifesaver, Blue Series #4
Acrylic Lacquer on Acrylic
Portland Art Museum
Judy Chicago identifies as woman and a feminist-artist, gaining recognition in the art world as early as the late sixties. Undulating, are her Pasadena Lifesaver among the other surrounding and seemingly sleeping contemporary-wing works at the Portland Art Museum. Purchased by the museum in 2007, Pasadena Lifesaver, Blue Series #4 done by Chicago in 1969-1970, is perplexing stylistically and politically. Chicago grasps the viewer initially through her mastery in color, with this particular piece inhabiting cooler spectrums. Secondarily in the Blue Series piece, the viewer is taken by the distribution of these colors. Each lifesaver is constructed of the same pattern of colors on a spectrum of the dark to light. However, within the top and bottom pairs, each lifesaver is turned 45 degrees comparatively to its adjacent neighbor. In tertiary, the viewer may notice the background of this delicately thin acrylic lacquer on acrylic. Its geometry is layered first with a centered, faint, diamond, which slices diagonally behind the middle of each Lifesaver at 45 degrees and meets the mid-point of every side of the work. This diamond is an illusion created by two inner fan-like forms joining. This background of geometric complexity, corresponding with the vivid Lifesavers, hypnotizes the viewer just long enough to culminate at an event of optical illusion: Four, throbbing, pulsating rings.
Chicago’s Pasadena Lifesaver, Blue Series #4 is geometrically stimulating and flirtatious. Its yonic embodiment cannot be slighted and simulates the candid alluring “je ne sais quoi” state in sexual discovery. This work’s erotic content, whether relatable or not, is presented through a delicate dance with the viewer. Observers are caught off guard by the seductive movement of Chicago’s work, illustrating the personal experiences she has striven to emulate in Lifesavers. For Chicago, this piece marks an important part in her life and career. Moreover, for the greater artist community, this marked the beginning of second wave feminist art production in the 1970’s.
Lisa Tickner (2014) outlined the second wave of feminism with the seven demands of the Women’s Liberation Movement’s (WLM) National conference held in Oxford in 1970 with: Equal pay, equal education, equal job opportunities, legal and financial independence for women, self-defined sexuality, and the cessation of the appropriation of male violence (1). Tickner continues that women were under-represented in reviews, exhibitions, and galleries even though the number of women artists exceeded that of males historically and at the time of the WLM (1). In 1971 word spread quickly about Chicago and colleague Miriam Schapiro as they developed the first feminist art program at California Institute of Arts, and a women’s artist safe-space for collaboration and installation called “Womanhouse” in response to this disproportionate representation (1).
Chicago is most well-known for her installation The Dinner Party, which Tickner suggests “joined matriarchal celebration to vaginal iconography and the use of needlework and china-painting as domestic techniques.” (1). This use of domestic technique utilizes a medium historically confined to women, and reclaims it as a symbol of partnership, collaboration, and shared labor. Through Chicago’s use of the geometric shapes and arrangements derivative of quilting, she pays tribute to her exploited and oppressed female kin. Sewing and quilting joined the era of a new “contemporary embrace with craft” (Buszek, 2014) in the 1970’s. In solidarity joined artists such as Miriam Schapiro, Faith Wilding, Louise Bourgeois, Faith Ringgold, and Ghada Amer.
Stylistically, Chicago transgresses the dominant quo of painting as a media in Blue Series by taking traditional images of quilting geometrics, domestic craft, pattern and decoration, and in the same context giving them bold power through the use of a silver, thick, soldered-frame, the use of lacquer, acrylic, and the use of size. This “boldness” exercises stylistic or structural characteristics historically prescribed to the patriarchal art history canon: Abstract, sizable, avant-garde, minimalist, and of or relating to the portrayal of women and/or the female body. To some art historians these styles are described as “masculine”. But for Chicago, representing feminism in chinaware, miniatures, and fibers (which were historically appropriate for women) were merely referenced in this piece. Blue Series #4 relates to feminist ideals more aggressively with regards to self-defined sexuality and an audible homage to the reality of vaginal pleasure.
Shortly after renaming herself literally and internally, Chicago begins to express vaginal iconography in her work with tremendous power and confidence. Blue series #4 provided illustration of a solid checkpoint in reclaiming the ownership of her body and identities:
In a 1971 interview with Chicago (one year after producing Blue Series #4) documented in the film “Judy Chicago and the California Girls” directed by Judith Dancoff (2008) she presses that as women, “What we have to do, is we have to seize our own cunt, grasp it firmly in our hands, and proceed to announce what it is! Announce that it is real, that it is alive, that it is aggressive, that it is outgoing…that it looks like this, it needs this, that is has this kind of dimension. And what does that mean? It means to really take control of our own identities as women. And our cunts are symbolic as our identity as women…a ‘cunt’ is an image of contempt…but we have to get a hold of our own image, take it over. That’s why I changed my name. Because I took hold of my own identity!”
In this interview, Chicago expressed the importance of realism, movement, precision, and confidence, as tools to represent her identity legitimately in her work. As a provocative representation of the “self defined-sexuality” demand of the WLM, and a diagrammatic account of erotic self-discovery, Chicago entitles herself to these contents by use of this specific technical approach. In using a nearly two-inch-thick soldered-frame, an inaccessible window into the account of her personal experience, mathematically correct composition, and the use of motion in optical illusion, Chicago’s piece shows the control, mastery, and “greatness” that Linda Nochlin (1971) argues (in the same year) has been credited solely to the artist canon which is purely male.
By combining contemporary style, with a cleverly subtle tribute in feminism to the unforgettable tradition of oppressive domestic craft, Judy Chicago re-asserts in Pasadena Lifesaver, Blue Series #4, that by way of this confident, precise, and aggressive, abstraction of an inaccessible window into her experiences, she, not anyone else, not patriarchy, is the governor of her experience, of her art, is the governor of her body, and therefore of herself.
Chadwick, Whitney. Women, art, and society. 5th ed. London: New York, N.Y. :, 2012.
Chicago , Judy . “What is Feminist Art?.”Chicago, Judy. “What is Feminist Art?.”
http://www.judychicago.com/application/assets/pdf/what-is-feminist-art.pdf (accessed May 28, 2014).
Judy Chicago & the California girls. Directed by Judith Dancoff. Los Angeles: California Girl
Productions, 2008. http://judychicagoandthecaliforniagirls.com/judychicago.html
Lisa Tickner. “Feminism and art.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University
Press, accessed May 21, 2014,
Maria Elena Buszek . “Craft and contemporary art.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online.
Oxford University Press, accessed May 21, 2014,