Displaced from her studio and apartment on 9/11, Linda Stein recalls fleeing Ground Zero on that tragic day. “As I was running, I turned around and wondered, ‘Why are they throwing furniture off the Trade tower?’ Then I realized it wasn’t furniture—it was people jumping. [...] When I returned to my studio after a year of displacement, my work started becoming figurative, after many years of being an abstract artist. With each project, one could see male and female attributes, blended into each form.”
Her perspective drastically changed, the longtime artist and activist began creating tangible works focused on the body and social change ever since. Traces of 9/11 are not obvious in her pieces, but the importance of embodiment, environment, and gender justice define her exhibitions. Distinctly figurative and aimed to educate, many of them are also wearable.
Stein’s art nonprofit, Have Art: Will Travel! Inc. (HAWT), brings traveling exhibitions, performances, lectures, and educational presentations throughout the US. Founded in 1972, HAWT’s aim is gender justice and anti-bullying education, explicitly and poetically. Her newest exhibitions are available for booking across the country. One, called The Fluidity of Gender, consists of larger-than-life gender-bending sculptures and archival ink prints; another called Holocaust Heroes: Fierce Females—Tapestries and Sculpture features ten female heroes during the Holocaust.
Not yet traveling but nearly complete, I Am the Environment: My Gender, My Nature, is Stein’s latest work, a series of figurative work formed with earthy elements gathered almost completely from the beach (excepting purchased lentil beans, used in Seeds of SelfPossession). Stein painstakingly collected seashells, nuts, wood, and debris herself before creating the sculptures. “It’s so important for us to take care of the environment—I’m comparing it to caring for our bodies,” she tells The Creators Project. “We as humans make up the environment as well - as we care so much for our bodies, we should care for the environment in the same way.”
While I Am the Environment has yet to travel, Holocaust Heroes: Fierce Females, has moved from Wisconsin, to Santa Barbara, to its current place in Dallas. The multi-media project uses video, sculptures, performance, and ten colorful collaged tapestries to tell the stories of women who saved lives during the tragedy. “The tapestries each represent a hero during the Holocaust,” Stein tells us. “We all know Anne Frank, but I want everyone to learn these nine other names.”
“Nobody wanted to talk about sexual abuse during the Holocaust,” Stein continues. “But here’s an example: while one woman was in this concentration camp, a man came over to her and offered her a spoon. At first, she was so grateful. The urn that was passed around, filled with water and gruel, was certainly contaminated at the rim with Tuberculosis germs. A spoon offered the chance to dip into the center and maybe avoid contamination. But then the man says, “When can we meet?” and she knows it’s in exchange for sexual favors. She throws the spoon at him and runs away and hides. But instead of chasing her, he simply approaches another woman with the spoon, and she says ‘yes.’ This kind of thing happened a lot during the Holocaust. It brings up the question: how do you maintain your self-respect and survive?”
This question led Stein to create the sculpture portion of the series with her Spoon to Shell boxes. Each box has a spoon representing the opposition between sustenance and sexual abuse and a shell signifying the hardened facial expressions of those trying to hide their fear or anger.
Recently at Alverno College in Wisconsin, many in the audience told Stein that they weren’t aware of how many women not only spoke up but saved lives. “The reason I want to educate my audience is because I want them to know: you may not save lives, or write from an attic like Anne Frank, or suffer the way others suffered, but what can you do on an everyday basis to help someone who’s being bullied? How can you be not a bystander, but a brave up-stander?"
To learn more about HAWT and Linda Stein’s traveling exhibitions, click here.