"The body is a sacred garment. It's your first and your last garment...and it should be treated with honor, and with joy and with fear as well. But always, though, with blessing." ~ Martha Graham
Karen LaMonte is an artist who explores the relationship between body and garment, space and spirit. Her sculptures play with identity and the infinity we try - and fail - to clothe.
She also explores the connections between body and culture. Having lived and studied in Japan for years, she learned how the traditional kimono was designed to idealize and reshape the female body. Similarly, in her Nocturnes series, she uses evening gowns to uncover Western ideals of beauty.
Yet all her sculptures, regardless of culture, provide stunning insight into the impossibility of these ideals. We witness the erasure of the real woman when beauty is externalized.
I recently visited LaMonte’s work at the Hunter Museum in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The title of her exhibit beckoned me: Embodied Beauty. Isn’t that something we all struggle with? How do we accept and manifest our own unrepeatable love-liness?
I was especially touched by LaMonte's bodiless kimono, empty yet filled with female form.
She kneels, reaching without hands, speaking without a mouth.
She is everywoman and no-woman.
An ideal form? Or an annihilation of life?
For the more we starve and cinch, pin and pluck, hide our flaws to conform to a distorted, airbrushed image...the less I AM and the less WE ARE. Our humanness is reduced, denied, consumed, and yet...
Look closely at LaMonte's statues. Form fades into wave. Absence dissolves into shadow and shine, texture and flow. The lushness of the fabric belies its true nature: iron, glass, ceramic, bronze. Just like flesh hides the reality of sinew and soul.
In the carved robes, I see deserts and cloud palaces. Lava and blood and veins of gold.
I see the embodied beauty that, at first, I missed. It's there, in the eyes of the artist, who sees us, even when we feel invisible. Even when we struggle to exist.