Monday, May 14, 2012

Farewell to Rosie Riveter- Judy Baca


“Farewell to Rosie Riveter”(1983) –Judy Baca

                  “Farewell to Rosie Riveter” is a mural painting created by Judith Baca, which is a small portion of the "Great Wall of Los Angeles", a mural project created by Baca and her organization, SPARC (Social and Public Art Resource Center).  The painting depicts a historic American icon, “Rosie the Riveter” being sucked back into a black and white television set by a women with a vacuum. The background appears to be a suburban neighborhood of the 1950's.  Rosie is resisting this fate by gripping to the edge of the painting as well as the back of the television set.  To the right of her is a wrench that has fallen to the ground. Also, her signature blue jumpsuit is being torn away from her muscular body and sucked back up into the “typical” 1950’s ideal of the housewife. All of these components add to the worried look that is displayed on Rosie's face in regards to being vacuumed into the television.
            In beginning to analyze this work, and to give this painting more historical context, I researched Rosie to understand what she signifies and her role as a symbol to the American people.Tracing the origins of Rosie has not always been an easy task, but the significance of her symbolism is crucial to understanding the climate of the times.  According to Sheridan Harvey of the Library of Congress,

“The chronology isn't always clear, but it seems that about 1942, an artist at Westinghouse named J. Howard Miller created "We Can Do It!," probably as part of his company's war work. The federal government encouraged industries to try to get more people to go to work. "We Can Do It!" initially had no connection with someone named Rosie. The next step in the Rosie myth was apparently the song "Rosie the Riveter" by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb, released in early 1943.”

            Redd Evans’ song played a crucial role in the American government’s effort to raise not only national moral, but also the female contribution to the war effort through filling vacant jobs soldiers left behind.  Some lyrics from “Rosie the Riveter” are:
"All the day long, 
Whether rain or shine, 
She's a part of the assembly line. 
She's making history, 
Working for victory, 
Rosie the Riveter. 
Keeps a sharp lookout for sabotage, 
Sitting up there on the fuselage. 
That little girl will do more than a male will do."
And skipping to the end:
"There's something true about, 
Red, white, and blue about,  Rosie the Riveter."
                   -“Rosie the Riveter” video- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55NCElsbjeQ
           
            Given the context of the figure Baca was depicting, I was able to infer more accurately, what Baca was attempting to express through her mural, and what change she was trying to show people our society needed.  Women were a huge part of the American war effort while men were abroad fighting in WWII.  When the war was over, women were expected to exit the workforce just as swiftly as they entered it.  This explains Rosie’s reaction in the painting.  As I previously mentioned, Rosie appears to be resisting being sucked back into the mundane world of vacuuming, and the housewife role.  I believe Baca is showing that American society used women when they were convenient, but now that the need is no longer there, they are expected to be confined to their small box again.  The idea of gender roles is one of the most prevalent themes in this portion of the mural and this is something we have discussed this theme in class throughout the semester. Rosie seems to have no choice as to whether she must fit this "housewife" idea shown through television, and is being forced to adhere to the popular gender roles. As much as she is trying to escape, it is shown that she will probably have no choice but to succumb to this fate. As part of feminism, we realize these gender roles and recognize that women do not and should not be placed into a single mold, as there are many different kinds of women. This idea of gender roles has been seen in Persepolis, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, as well as Sula. Women are constantly resisting gender roles to create their own path out of society's "box" and creating their own sense of agency.
            In Joanna Freuh’s The Body Through Women’s Eyes, Freuh quotes author Simone De Beauvoir saying, “Women sees herself and makes her choices not in accordance with her true nature… but as man defines her…man dooms women to artifice…one is not born, but rather becomes a women”(Freuh 190).  This applies directly to Baca’s painting, as many women adhere to how society labels them and categorizes them. Women’s value in the workforce was not determined by efficiency or merit, but rather on their level on convenience in relation to men.  Women were out in the workforce when men were unable to be and when they needed help, but as soon as that void is filled, women are expected to drop their wrench and be sucked back into the mundane gender role that men have created for them.  Throughout the semester, we have seen that men and society place women in boxes that they are expected to be confined to.  A fantastic example of this is in Megan Seely’s “the F-word”.  “A man may put his fist through a wall, and, while we may think him foolish, we rarely demean his character.  But we are extremely uncomfortable with women’s anger,” Seely says critiquing society’s expectation for women to be static rather than dynamic.  Baca’s painting and Seely’s words suggest that women are supposed to submissively to do as they’re told.
            Another theme that was prevalent in our studies this semester was the idea of a constant struggle to prompt change in society.  This is evident in Baca’s painting as well as in Adrienne Rich’s “Why I Refused the National Medal for Arts”.  As the title suggests, Rich discusses why she could not accept the National Medal for Arts.  Rich goes on to explain,”

“But I do know that art-in my case the art of poetry- means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of power that holds it hostage.  The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate.  A president cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored” (Rich 99)”.
            
     Although it would be nice to receive an award based on her work, Rich refuses to compromise her principles by accepting an award form an institution that rarely supports art and when it does only acknowledges a few, “token” artists.  This is similar to Baca’s thoughts on the workforce.  It is not enough to simply let women into the workforce when they are needed. Job skills should not be based on gender but rather skills that a person posses. This mural portrays this ideals that we have discussed throughout the course about fitting someone into a stereotype and the need to label people into categories. Shaping a gender role to fit what men need is not only unfair to women, but it is as hypocritical as Rich accepting the medal.

            Initially, I did not have much of a reaction to Baca’s painting.  However, once I did some background research and fully understood what “Rosie the Riveter” meant in American culture, my opinion changed.  I think that Baca’s work here is not only brilliant, but it also demonstrates a clear message of inequality.  A women that has worked to fill the void in the workforce for not only the men she knew, but also the entire country, is expected to be sucked back into the world that society has created for her.  
I think what gets this point across the most is the fact that she is being sucked back into a vacuum into a black and white TV.  While I do understand the idea that black and white TVs were the medium of communication of the time, I think Baca is uses the color contrast to create juxtaposition between the world that women were introduced to and the world that women were expected to exist in.  The comparison instills a feeling of injustice in the reader, which is reaffirmed by Rosie’s reaction and dropped wrench.  In addition to that, I think the size of the wrench is a subtle comment on how valuable women were to the war effort.  The fact that a women is sucking another women into the television set cannot be overlooked as well.  I interpreted this as a statement that women accepting the roles men have placed upon them are just as guilty as the men placing these roles.  Baca’s painting really captures what I have come to learn the entire semester.  Feminism is nothing more or less than a war for equality.  Not in a convenient manner for a limited amount of time, but for actual absolute equality.
-       -Mike Mozier

My personal response to the painting by Judy Baca: I think the painting was symbolic as far as detonating the seriousness of gender roles. The women that is being sucked into the television has muscles and seems to have a blue suit dangling off her as she, what appears to be frantically trying to hold onto something to stop from being sucked in the television. I found it surprising that it was also a fellow woman who was inside the television with a vacuum sucking in Rosie Riveter. The contrasting countenances on both women’s faces speak different stories as well. Rosie Riveter’s facial expression in contrast to the woman’s in the television exemplify a sense of despair and anxiousness—I interpreted it as to get as far away from being placed in a societal standard; whereas the woman in the television had more of a look of contempt and wickedness. I think that the woman who was in the television also sent a subtle message of acceptance within women’s “expected” societal/domestic roles. I think that the large wrench on the side of Rosie Riveter says that working with tools is only suppose to be for men and that her job/place is not with such--thus the reason she is being sucked back into the television by a fellow woman. The colors also played a role, enlightening my senses and making the objects and features more elaborate and detailed.
-Ndidi Ukaibe

Work Cited
Frueh, Joanna. “The Body Through Women’s Eyes” in The Power of Feminist Art, p.190-207.

Glamourdaze. "Rosie the Riveter Song." YouTube. YouTube, 29 Oct. 2010. Web. 14 May 2012.  <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55NCElsbjeQ>.

"Rosie the Riveter Transcript (Journeys and Crossings, Library of Congress Digital Reference Section)." Rosie the Riveter Transcript (Journeys and Crossings, Library of Congress Digital Reference Section). Web. 14 May 2012. <http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/journey/rosie-transcript.html>.

Rich, Adrienne. “Why I Refused the National Medal for the Arts” in Arts of the Possible: Essays in Conversation, p. 98-103.

Seely, Megan. "The F-Word." Fight like a Girl: How to Be a Fearless Feminist. New York: New York UP, 2007. 1-14. Print.

1 comment:

  1. Work Cited
    Frueh, Joanna. “The Body Through Women’s Eyes” in The Power of Feminist Art, p.190-207.
    Glamourdaze. "Rosie the Riveter Song." YouTube. YouTube, 29 Oct. 2010. Web. 14 May 2012. .
    "Rosie the Riveter Transcript (Journeys and Crossings, Library of Congress Digital Reference Section)." Rosie the Riveter Transcript (Journeys and Crossings, Library of Congress Digital Reference Section). Web. 14 May 2012. .
    Rich, Adrienne. “Why I Refused the National Medal for the Arts” in Arts of the Possible: Essays in Conversation, p. 98-103.
    Seely, Megan. "The F-Word." Fight like a Girl: How to Be a Fearless Feminist. New York: New York UP, 2007. 1-14. Print.

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