A rite of human passage.
The Tryst, c. 1990, acrylic on canvas. Lance Balderson, 1941, American. Philadelphia Museum of Art
I don’t know if it has ever been fully institutionalized except as part of the marriage rite. Sometimes and in some places, perhaps.
But is it really possible that the Kama Sutra, the 1001 Nights, The Perfumed Garden of Sensual Delight, Tristan and Isolde and the Provençal Troubadour tradition could have arisen out of nothing? Abelard and Heloise?
There must have been traditions. And what about the harems? Their complete functions were what exactly?
And I recall that one of my friends was initiated by a man who came from the South Arabian littoral. And he himself had been initiated.
And I like to think that the history of the old perfumes – myrrh, frankincense, spikenard, rosewater – is tied up with this rite. But this may be a fanciful notion.
So the rite has proceeded in haphazard fashion in submerged grooves of Sapiens’ erotic history for those lucky enough to stumble into such a groove.
Le Baiser (The Kiss), 1927, oil on canvas. Max Ernst, German, 1891-1976. Peggy Guggehnheim, Venice on loan to Solomon R. Guggeneheim, NY in 2016
The sexual mayhem that results, in part, from the lack of orderly initiation or even the remotest recognition that the practice of carnal love requires education continues, however.
The mayhem, I mean: unabated in the lives of individuals and in the society as a whole.
Despite, in the ‘West’, four waves of Feminism which have swept away the laws which excused and protected aspects of this mayhem.
Mayhem severely vitiated now by the use of the Internet for the sale and abuse of sex in virtual and real forms.
Self-Portrait with doll, 1922, oil on canvas. Oskar Kokoshka, 1886-1980, Austrian. MOMA, NY
Kokoshka commissioned this doll in the likeness of his muse and former mistress, Alma Mahler. He included the doll in several of his paintings.
In this self-portrait, he is pointing at her genitals. In frustration with its non-humanness, he beheaded the doll.
Beheaded her. Words begin to fail me…
A painting of the mayhem from 1922.
The Eternally Obvious, 1948, oil on canvas, laid on board. Rene Magritte, 1898-1967, Belgian. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
So used are we to the objectification of women that the Metropolitan Museum would have us believe that this portrait of the artist’s wife is a challenge by the artist, in Surreal form, to us to see a whole body from its discrete parts.
Art museum noise. This is a man objectifying his wife’s body. Do we need her broken up to see her in her wholeness?! Seriously?
My Calling (Card(s)) Reactive Guerrilla Performance for Dinners and Cocktail Parties/for Bars and Discos, 1986-1990; mixed medium installation, printed cards, cardholder and stencilled sign.
Adrian Piper, American born 1948. Loaned by Wellesley College to MOMA, NY in 2018
A private and ecstatic ritual, then:
unclaimed by our great religious and secular institutions.
And consequently erratic in practice.
The poet is describing the ritual expression of this rite of passage.
Even if there are no priests or magistrates or anyone in loco anything for our induction into this rite of passage,
the poet is with us……….
BRIDE AND GROOM LIE HIDDEN FOR THREE DAYS
Country Lovers, from the series Eroticard, 1975, ink on paper. Roland Ayers, 1932-2014
Ted Hughes, 1930 – 1998, British
The poet Sylvia Plath, 1932-1963, American, and her adult son; and Assia Wevill and her infant daughter in compassionate memory.
She gives him his eyes, she found them
Among some rubble, among some beetles
Untitled (Woman with Artist), and details below, c. 1980’s, oil on canvas. Ben Kamihira, 1924-2004, American
He gives her her skin
He just seemed to pull it down out of the air and lay it over her
She weeps with fearfulness and astonishment
She has found his hands for him, and fitted them freshly at the wrists
They are amazed at themselves, they go feeling all over her
He has assembled her spine, he cleaned each piece carefully
And sets them in perfect order
A superhuman puzzle but he is inspired
She leans back twisting this way and that, using it and laughing
Woman Lying Down, 1984, stoneware (10 parts), details below.
Mary Frank, American, born 1933. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia
Now she has brought his feet, she is connecting them
So that his whole body lights up
And he has fashioned her new hips
With all fittings complete and with newly wound coils, all shiningly oiled
He is polishing every part, he himself can hardly believe it
They keep taking each other to the sun, they find they can easily
To test each new thing at each new step
Parts and Counterparts: Embrace, 1969, collotype. Samuel Maitin, 1928-2004, American
And now she smoothes over him the plates of his skull
So that the joints are invisible
And now he connects her throat, her breasts and the pit of her stomach
With a single wire
She gives him his teeth, tying the the roots to the centrepin of his body
He sets the little circlets on her fingertips
Vintage silk extracted from silkworms, dyed and spun in France, 1922
He oils the delicate cogs of her mouth
She inlays with deep cut scrolls the nape of his neck
He sinks into place the inside of her thighs
So, gasping with joy, with cries of wonderment
Spring, oil on canvas, 1935. Francis Picabia, 1979-1953, French. Loaned by Centre Pompidou, Paris to MOMA, NY in 2017
Like two gods of mud
Sprawling in the dirt, but with infinite care
They bring each other to perfection.
Thread, 2012, acrylic, charcoal, pastel, colour pencil and Xerox transfers on paper. Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Nigerian-American, born 1983. Private collection.