Friday, August 20, 2010

Art, for Fuck's Sake: An Interview with Julia Bergen

The term "crafts" has become yet another branch on the increasingly knotty family tree of Art, but it has been relegated to one of the lowest, least regarded branches. Why is this? What makes art Art? Should it inspire? Should it perplex? Should it confront? Should it convey a message? Should it be pretty? Could it ever include an afghan lovingly crocheted by Nana?

The artwork of Julia Bergen prompts many of the questions asked above by using traditional female crafts in subversive ways. She has also received formal training in a number of other media that fall under the traditional definition of fine arts. I had the pleasure of interviewing this East Bay native a few weeks ago, during which she explained her philosophy of art.

AD: You paint, you sketch, you cross-stitch—what’s your favorite medium? Why?

Print-making. It’s the process, but mostly the community that’s built around it. It’s really expensive. [With print-making,] you get this community of artists who are interested in this medium [because they share materials and work space], so it’s really good for artists; it takes you out of this really solitary environment. You’re seeing what other people are doing, and how they’re doing it. You build friendships. It’s like collective knowledge.

[Also,] lithography. You use limestone. It’s all a chemical process that is based on the concept that water and oil don’t mix. You get this chunk of limestone, and it’s quarried in Bavaria, and you’re working off of these slabs of limestone. You grain the stone (make the stone flat, the right smoothness to draw on).

[As a student] at UC Santa Cruz, I focused on "intaglio": etching. But I fell in love with lithography because it was much more conducive to the way I think, my drawing style. It’s additive: Everything you draw will be marked on the stone. It’s not reductive [like etching].

It’s a beautiful process. You build a relationship with the stone. Each one is a different size. Based on the age of the stone, it gets thinner and thinner. You grain the stone each time you use it. The stone has a history. You get what’s called a ghost image. That’s after you’ve printed, and you’re done with that image. There’s a tool called a levigator, what you use to grain the stone. You’re manually sanding it down. You see the decline of what was your image. So it’s in that you start to see the ghost image, so even when all the ink is removed, you can see it [the image] in the stone.

AD: Going back to cross-stitching, the image on the business card you gave me is of a cross-stitching with two cakes—each with a cherry on top—and the word “lovertits.” This is a medium typically thought of as more of a craft than a legitimate art form. Why have you chosen to use cross-stitching in such an unexpected way?

I learned how to cross-stitch when I was very young. It was something my mom and grandmother did. The subject matter was never relevant to my life. [But] I enjoy the process of it, the skill, the patience, the history. But I was not interested in the subject matter, [such as] Winnie the Pooh. I got more into cross-stitching when I was around 20. Subversive cross-stiching, writing sayings—I thought, That’s a cool idea. I was inspired by that. My first one just said: “Fuck.” Around it were very delicate flowers. I liked the juxtaposition: your grandmother would never have anything that said “fuck” in her house.

It’s also about sitting in a place, putting in your energy and time. I love folk art; I think it’s kind of ridiculous that there’s a distinction between craft and fine art. Anything you make with your hands is fine art. You’re still using a material that you didn’t make from its infancy. What is art to you? That’s art. It’s never the same across the board.

AD: How has your cross-stitching been received? Any skeptics?

I’ve had really positive reaction because it’s not a type of art or craft that a lot of people my age are doing. Most people don’t know what I mean by “cross-stitch.” There’s something very old-time about it, like banjos and the South. They [people my age] like that it’s swear words. I’ve made some custom ones for friends, like “Cunt.” A lot of my friends are like, if that was on the street, I’d totally buy it. It lends itself well to my generation. I’m not charging a lot for them [my cross-stitching]; it’s something you can collect.

AD: Do you find that your artwork shares a common theme?

I guess it’s more about my style as an artist. I’m always interested in color, pattern. It helps me process memory, seeing what images come to mind, people, places. If I draw a certain pattern, it’s like remembering that time in my life. It’s nice to express myself not in words. I’m translating that through my hands. I’m affecting. It’s something you’re viewing. It’s like sharing in a different way. You’re going to have your own interpretation of this [particular artwork], but you’re experiencing a certain side of my reality.

AD: As an artist, do you feel that your work is a way to convey a message to people, or is it simply a creative outlet—without any conscious attempt to communicate with the viewer?

I think it’s more creative. If I were the only person on the planet, I’d still be creating. I expect to share most of my art. Whereas my journal is very private, my art is not something I hoard. But it’s not creating with the explicit intent to sell it.

AD: What do you feel is your biggest artistic achievement at this point?

I had been working my ass off the entire year for the print sale [at UC Santa Cruz]. I wanted to accomplish something for myself, see how much I could dedicate myself. Seeing how far I had come, it was so much. Wow, look at this community I built! Look how I’ve been able to express myself better, and sell my art! To have someone else acknowledge that... I probably had between 600-700 prints. I’ve never counted.

AD: Last question: What does “feminist” mean to you, and do you consider yourself to be one?

It’s [feminist] when females acknowledge the power in being a female, and kind of reveling in that. We’re all human, but it’s a different experience being a woman than a man. History has portrayed women as the inferior sex. It’s not about “men are shit,” but being like, “Yes, I experience life differently.” Women process things differently a lot of the times. The way we express/process our emotions is different. [Being a feminist is] not being ashamed of that, [and it’s about] women building community around that. Women often separate themselves [from one another]: Oh, you’re thinner. Let’s get together and connect on an emotional level. Yeah, [laughs] I consider myself a feminist.

Julia Bergen is having an artist’s reception on Friday, August 27th at Café Zoe, located at 6000 College Ave. in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland, California. Her artwork will be for sale at Café Zoe for a month following the reception.

To view some of her cross-stitches and make purchases, click on the title of this interview.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Feminism Under the Knife

Does plastic surgery automatically exclude one from the circle of (feminist) trust? That's what some are asking now that major news outlets are covering the story of the so-called Too-Hot Banker.

Her real name is Debrahlee Lorenzana, and she was fired from Citibank, according to Lorenzana, for being too hot. The photos online depict a long-legged brunette who is, well, hot. So what's a pretty girl to do? Citibank says she was fired for not doing a very good job; Lorenzana says she was fired because of her looks.

She also says that she has gone under the knife several times in an effort to look like a Playboy model.

This admission has garnered just as much attention as the lawsuit Lorenzana is bringing against her former employer. Her comment problematizes an otherwise fairly straightforward case of sexual harassment: Does her decision to augment her body through plastic surgery (the goal of her fourth breast enlargement is a 32-DD) make any claim of sexual harassment null and void? Or is this question akin to saying a provocatively dressed rape victim "asked for it"?

It's also worth noting that Lorenzana has sparked a related debate regarding feminism and self-image. What happens when a woman is so concerned with her ability to be attractive to the opposite sex that she is willing to have several surgeries in order to change her appearance, but then she objects to being objectified?

I don't know where I stand on this one. What say you?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Palin's Muliebrity

I had no idea that Sarah Palin was reading our blog!Palin has joined our discussion of muliebrity and declared herself a feminist. Oh yes, she dropped the "f" bomb. You can click on the title of this post to read npr's discussion with Meghan Daum and hear what some callers had to say.

I think Daum has a very interesting point of view on Palin's use of the word. Daum defines feminism as someone who believes in equal rights for men and women and who wants to call themselves a feminist, and I agree. I also think that Palin is being an "opportunist" and simply trying to get more media attention. But, I think that Daum is correct in saying, "that we cant just in a very reactionary way sort of disallow Sarah Palin from using certain vocabulary."

Most importantly, I think that this may stir all of us into a meaningful discussion of what feminism means. (And I thought nothing good would ever come of Palin!)

What say all of you?

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Alright, kids! Are you ready for the word of the day? Say it with me: "Muliebrity" (myoo-lee-EB-ri-tee, noun). defines it as "The state of being a woman." Intriguing, no? But the following example of the word in action is even more so:

"She was one of those women who was waiting in--what is the word?--muliebrity; she had courage and initiative and a philosophical way of handling questions, and she could be bored by regular work like a man." --H.G. Wells, The New Machiavelli

What does "muliebrity" mean to you? Define it in one sentence by commenting on this posting.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Part 2: Living with Lupus, Seeking Well-Endowed Healthcare

As my fingers became more rigid, I lost the ability to open jars and push the dispenser button for the laundry detergent. As my toes became more rigid, I began shuffling around the house in slippers, going to work in sneakers. I applied for, and was denied, Medi-Cal because I didn’t have children. I knew I was going to be denied for that very reason, but I had to apply anyway in order to apply for county assistance. I was denied that, too, on the basis that my husband was a full-time, unemployed student; that, and we both owned cars with a combined worth of $14,000. If I was to get medical attention, I needed to sell our cars, and my husband needed to quit school and get a job.

The process of application and denial was degrading and time-consuming. For the first time, I experienced poverty as a class distinction, rather than as a college-student’s income level. In my attempt to get medical care, I waited in lines that snaked around large buildings, I waited in rooms filled with people who stared at me as if I were from another planet, I waited for hours only to be told: You’re too poor to afford health insurance; you’re not eligible for assistance—sorry. All I kept saying to anyone who would listen was, I’m a human being! I don’t deserve to be treated like this.

I applied for private health insurance, for which my in-laws paid high premiums. More blood was drawn. More tests were run. I was officially diagnosed with lupus.

I hated my body. I felt betrayed by it. I had no control over what was happening to me. Positive thinking had no effect. My doctor had no miracle drug for me, only more Motrin. My arthritis became less severe, but I was exhausted and my thoughts were jumbled. My boss was having none of it. I was assigned fewer and fewer classes. As my financial situation worsened, my stress increased, leading to worsening symptoms.

I gave up teaching in favor of a full-time job with benefits, one that required being on my feet eight hours a day and working with my hands. Time passed, and I became despondent. I felt that I was a failure. I felt like I brought nothing but misery into the lives of my husband, mother, and friends. I became fixated with my gas oven. The day came when I realized that I no longer feared death. I began researching women in psychiatric hospitals for an article for Insurgents’ Ink, and on a whim, took an online depression test. An orange box popped up, imploring me to call a suicide hotline number.

I cried. I hyperventilated. I paced the house. I read the words: Remember, suicidal thoughts will pass, but suicide is forever. I breathed. I waited for my husband to come home. I told him everything. I called my doctor. Drugs, therapy, yoga—it’s working pretty marvelously, actually. The only side-effect has been vivid dreams: Sometimes my husband accidentally leaves the gas on after cooking, and we blissfully drift off and never wake up. Other times I’m sitting in a huge Catholic church and am asked by the priest to take the collection plate around to each individual person, and they look at me in a creepy, cultish way as they place their money in the plate. Still other times I’m relaxing in a tub filled with blood.

Although I’m no good at interpreting dreams, I can say that this experience has changed me. I used to feel secure in the fact that I am an American. I assumed that laws existed that protected me from falling through the cracks if I ever needed assistance. But when I actually fell through the cracks, I lost my sense of security. I wasn’t a lucky American citizen: I was expendable.

I still have moments when I feel isolated, discarded. And I have a lot of questions, like: Why is the only treatment for lupus a malaria drug developed in the 1960s that can cause color blindness? Why is the information on lupus vague and variable depending on the source? Will my symptoms get worse? Will they get better?

Each doctor and specialist seems to have different answers, or none at all. There’s just not a lot of research currently being done. But the act of writing has helped me to counter my feelings of powerlessness and frustration, and I hope that my story can help others in some way.

The Lupus Foundation of America website has been a great source of information:

There are also a number of books on the subject, including Flannery O'Connor's posthumously published collection of letters to a friend in which she writes about her own experience with lupus.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Living with Lupus, Seeking Well-Endowed Healthcare (Part 1 of 2)

With a topic as broad as “medicine,” I had difficulties pinpointing a specific topic to write an article on. An obvious choice was the current healthcare bill being pushed, but there was another topic lurking in every corner of my life that I hadn’t considered: living with lupus.

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that manifests itself in a variety of ways, including: arthritis, fatigue, sensitivity to sunlight, and kidney failure. Most sufferers of the disease are young women in their early thirties. I was diagnosed with lupus about a year and a half ago at age twenty-nine.

Mild arthritic symptoms began meekly presenting themselves about a year before I was diagnosed, in the form of stiff shoulders, neck, and elbows. As a part-time teacher, I didn’t have health insurance, so I dismissed my stiffness as part of getting older and tried to go on with my life. Over the course of a couple of weeks, however, my symptoms quickly progressed to my wrists, fingers, hips, knees, ankles, and then toes. One November morning, I found myself unable to sit up in bed.

My husband drove me to the emergency room. The doctor heard my complaints and forebodingly said that I needed to get health insurance. He didn’t say what he suspected was wrong with me, stating that I wouldn’t be able to get health insurance if I had a preexisting condition. He ordered blood tests, and while I waited for the results, the medical bills for my emergency room visit and lab work arrived. The hospital’s charitable program for low-income patients covered some of it. I had to come up with $700.

I picked up my indecipherable lab results and went to a doctor at a private practice to have them translated. This was a feat in itself since many doctors are loathe to see cash patients—those without insurance who are willing to pay upfront with cash. The doctor reviewed my lab results and heard my complaints. It was either rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or lupus. If it was RA, there was medication I could take to diminish the symptoms. If it was lupus, I could be dead in three months from inflammation of the brain.

I knew that the doctor was giving me the worst-case scenario for lupus, but to hear the doctor say those words—“dead in three months”—filled me with indescribable fear. He failed to mention that lupus affects the major organs of only a very small percentage of people. Most people live long, relatively healthy lives.

After the doctor’s brusque diagnosis, he stated that I needed to get health insurance immediately no matter how much money it cost (implying that I hadn’t had insurance because I chose to use that money for frivolous things). In the meantime, he said, Take 800 mg of Motrin every four hours. He walked out the door without saying another word.

I left the office with a friend who had been in the waiting room, and we walked to my car. I broke down and sobbed, telling her what the doctor had told me. My friend tried to comfort me while I tried to understand what was happening to my body.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Birth Control: Why the Pill Is a Controlled Substance

(This article is dedicated to the women of Puerto Rico who, unknowingly, were the test subjects of the first birth control pill in the 1950’s. Some of these women were given placebo pills and told that they would not get pregnant. Some of these women died from contaminated pills. None of these women were in control of their medical decisions. Every woman who takes the pill is indebted to these women. Find out more about this here.)

After taking the birth control pill for almost half my life, I took my last pill today. I’ve looked forward to this day for years, but now that it’s here, I feel an odd sense of loss instead of the euphoria I had expected. Could it be that I feel my youth receding into an ever more distant past? Not likely. Youth for me was high school, minimum wage customer service jobs, and bad sex with people I didn’t really like. So what is it? Am I mourning the loss of control that comes with more permanent methods? There is something comforting about the tangible aspect of popping a pill each morning, but then again it’s also a pain in the ass. I think the pill is so hard for me to let go of because it was so fucking difficult to get.

You can buy condoms at drug stores, grocery stores, gas stations, even liquor stores. I haven’t checked hardware stores, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find them on an end-cap next to some ridiculously large stainless steel screwdrivers. Yet, birth control pills must be prescribed by a physician and purchased from a drug store. You can get pills at most low-income clinics, such as Planned Parenthood or county health offices, but you cannot walk into a gas station at 3 am and buy a pack of pills.

All those years of waiting in line at Planned Parenthood, listening to the screaming toddlers and the woman with the yeast infection pleading with the receptionist for an immediate appointment, gave me ample time to ask myself: Why is the pill a controlled substance? Why isn’t it an over the counter medication? Other drugs are controlled because they are addictive or dangerous if used incorrectly, but birth control is neither. If used incorrectly, you get pregnant and end up in the same damn clinic getting booster shots for your toddler. I suppose there could be dangerous side effects if you overdosed on your pills. If you were really nervous and took the entire pack in one morning, maybe you’d grow a third breast or lose one. Even if the pill was dangerous, there are plenty of dangerous medications available over the counter. An overdose of acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be, and often is, fatal. The pill is not addictive or dangerous, but it is controlled. Why?

More to the point, why are some forms of birth control (condoms) readily available while others (the pill) are controlled? They both prevent pregnancy and are the two most effective methods of birth control available. So what is the difference? Any guesses? I’ll give you a hint: who uses each one? That’s right, men use condoms—well sometimes we help put them on—and women use the pill.

Now before you discount me as a conspiracy theorist, consider the reaction to birth control on the shelves of your local Rite Aid. What do you think people would say? I imagine, and have heard, statements similar to, “well anybody could go and buy it, even minors!” Minors can already buy birth control, so what are we really afraid of? We are afraid young girls will go buy birth control because when we think of condoms we think of men and when we think of the pill we think of women. I think a discussion of our cultural attitudes about sex, youth and gender is necessary if women, of any age, are ever to gain easy access to birth control.

We have some calamitous expectations about sex, youth and gender. It is generally acceptable and expected for young men to experiment with sex, but it is inappropriate, obscene in some circles, for young girls to think of participating. Yet our society does not condone homosexuality, so there is a problem here. Now of course this is not everyone’s opinion on the matter, but it might as well be because we condone young men’s sexuality by having their method of birth control readily available to them. While simultaneously forcing our young women to make appointments and wait in clinics just to gain control over their bodies. This isn’t fair, and it certainly isn’t smart if we want to reduce teenage pregnancy.

I know that young women can also buy condoms, but I used to be a young woman, and I know that very few of us had the self-confidence to buy condoms, ask our boyfriends to wear them and make sure they put them on and took them off correctly. What do you suppose a teenage girl is more likely to do: pop a pill each morning in the privacy of her bedroom, or hand her boyfriend a condom and demand that he put it on?

Youth is so overrated. At least the pill was much easier to get once I was an adult, right? Wrong. Even as an adult, I had to go to Planned Parenthood for my pills. There were two reasons for this. First of all, for a long time I didn’t have health insurance or the money to go see a doctor. So I went where I could get them for free. I dreamed of the day I would be a fully-insured adult! Once I had a decent health insurance plan, I learned a new term: “medically necessary.” That’s right, my wonderful health insurance plan, which paid for dental, vision and even $100 for smoking cessation treatment, refused to pay for my pills. When I looked further into the details of my plan, I found that they would pay for me to have a baby or an abortion, but they wouldn’t pay for birth control unless it was deemed medically necessary by my doctor.

Back at Planned Parenthood, I explained my situation and the frustrated receptionist finally whispered over the counter to me “just lie and say you don’t have any health insurance.”

After years of pursuing the pill, I guess it shouldn’t be any wonder that I have a hard time giving it up. I know I should be happy, and I would be if I knew I could just swing by the gas station and get more should I ever need it again.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

New Short Story

It's finally happened--the first short story has been posted on Insurgents' Ink! It's fantastic, it's brief, it's here just for you. Brandi McEvoy has helped us officially kick off our newest topic: Medicine.

So click on the link to "The Dragon" page to your right, and enjoy! And as always, feel free to comment.

Have a short story (or poem or medicine-related article) of your own? Submit it to Review the submission requirements on this page for more details.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Oscar Buzz

With multiple Femme Film Festivals in the works, I can't help but be delighted by the news that the "Academy" has nominated a fourth female for Best Director. The director is Kathryn Bigelow; the film is The Hurt Locker and is centered on American soldiers in Iraq.

If anyone has seen this film or plans to, please write a review and email it to us at so that we can post it on the blog. Remember, this blog is a forum for many voices--so let yours be heard!

And in a first for the Academy, they've nominated the first African-American for Best Director. Lee Daniels has been nominated for (also Oscar-nominated) Precious.
**Uh-oh: I just got word that this info is incorrect. John Singleton was the first African American to be nominated for Best Director for Boyz in tha Hood. Thanks to Simone Youngblood for the correction. I'm concerned about the implications of the AP's erroneous info...

All of the Oscar-nominated films this year sound amazing. Perhaps we should hold a Femme Film Fest Oscar Edition...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Femme Film Fest Prize

Thinking of hosting a Femme Film Fest in your town? Here's an extra incentive--as if you needed one to watch a great movie with your friends--the host who gets the most guests to follow Insurgents' Ink will win a DVD of Lost in Translation by Sophia Coppola. So start emailing your friends, buy lots of popcorn, and set a date for your local Femme Film Fest!