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Clarissa Sligh, American, b. 1939
Women Bring the People, 2006
Ink on paper
30 in. x 22 in. (76.2 cm x 55.88 cm)

Object Type: Offset LIthograph
Technique: Lithography
Credit Line: Courtesy of the Brandywine Workshop and Archives
Accession Number: 2011.9.26

An homage to jazz singer and songwriter Abbey Lincoln, Clarissa Sligh’s piece, Women Bring the People, looks at what it means to be a woman in society.

The collaged work features a photograph of Sligh in the center of the image, with a sprawling black-and-white cityscape sketch positioned behind and to either side of her figure. The photograph has been cut into three pieces of the body—a mouth-less face on the top, shoulders and breasts in the middle, and hips and buttocks below. There is text underneath the cityscape that repeats, “Women bring the people who build nations, rise and fall.” To the right of the photograph, smaller black-and-white pictures show front, right, left, and back viewpoints of Sligh’s body.

Sligh explored the meaning of the piece in a recent statement, crediting two influential figures as her motivation for creating this print: “Women Bring the People is an homage to jazz singer and songwriter Abbey Lincoln and critical theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. I combined Lincoln’s ideas with questions about economic concepts that neglect the inclusion of the woman as an agent in any theory of production. After all, she is in possession of a place of production in the womb.”

Abbey Lincoln (1930 - 2010) was an American jazz vocalist, actress, and songwriter. Influenced by Billie Holiday and the civil rights movement, Lincoln was renowned for writing her own songs and lyrics. Throughout her life, Lincoln produced dozens of albums and starred in film and television. In her work, Lincoln often explored womanhood and the female experience, becoming well known for her provocative album covers and emotional vocalizations.

Sligh dedicated Women Bring the People to Lincoln, writing that Lincoln’s lyricism and lifestyle inspired her work. The title of the piece comes from one of Lincoln’s interviews, and Sligh notes, “Her emphasis on woman’s importance, that, ‘they – the women bring the people’ profoundly influenced later jazz vocalists and composers.”

The secondary inspiration for Women Bring the People were the ideas of scholar and theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (1948 - present). Best known for her essay "Can the Subaltern Speak,” Spivak is considered one of the most influential postcolonial intellectuals and is currently a professor at Columbia University. Sligh stated that she drew from Spivak’s feminist interpretations of economic production theories.

In combining these complex ideas, Women Bring the People explores motherhood as a form of economic production and exploitation.
As viewers reflect on the deconstruction of Sligh’s own body in the middle of the piece, she hopes they will consider how society values the contributions of women, asking, “How can world economies be formulated when the value-producing work of women…is overlooked?”

Written by Amelie Lee (SC ’23), Wilson Arts Administration Intern, Summer 2020
All quotes from the artist are drawn from correspondence between Clarissa Sligh and Amelie Lee.

Signed and dated, "8, 2006".

ink on paper

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