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I wish I knew exactly what drew me in. I do recall what I brought: a bullet and my late husband’s dried wedding boutonniere. Melissa Ichiuji, the workshop teacher, was afraid the bullet could explode easily. I reassured her it wouldn’t. I just never imagined something solid could explode without impact.
The workshop was on figurative sculpture, something I knew nothing about, never having had an art class. But here I was. Boom!
The theme of the workshop was Home. The assignment was to bring in two objects associated with home. One object would represent the comfort or “ease” of home and the other the “dis-ease.” The objects had to fit in your hand and become part of the sculpture. Daunting.
Due to my eleventh hour registration, I had little time to find the objects. The stray bullet I discovered on a shelf in a large safe. The dried boutonniere, which I never knew my husband had preserved, I found in his medicine cabinet. Initially, we created the bodies. Using wire to form an armature, we wrapped cotton batting around it to fill in a human form. We then sewed fabric onto it to finish and define it. Picking the right fabric for my female sculpture was key. Initially drawn to a “wonder woman” cloth, I discarded it for a black velvet piece with traces of deep floral color. “Elegant and sensual,” I thought.
The workshop felt to me like Project Runway. I was determined to finish the piece by the end of the weekend, so I worked like mad. My work area was a complete mess, and my late husband’s boutonniere, which he had lovingly kept for years, was crushed into pieces by my driven industriousness. I brought it home – quietly devastated.
That evening I decided to stuff the boutonniere into the sculpture behind the fabric and next to the heart. Laid to rest. A hidden secret – only I knew.
The next morning with 6 hours to go in the workshop, we discussed how to incorporate the item of “dis-ease.” This was the bullet. I considered all kinds of creative images – like having it pooped out of the body – the perfect metaphor for eliminating toxicity. “Not attractive” kept going through my mind and the brilliance of the concept faded.
Melissa suggested the bullet could go through the body, and that intrigued me. Yes, like an action figure. I would send it through the stomach. That meant I would need to perform major surgery on the figure by stabbing scissors through its center to create a hole. The idea was painful after all that sewing. The tunnel of a hole I shaped and covered by cardboard concealed in red fabric – the entrance and exit defined with gold rhinestones. The bullet I suspended in the hole with black fishnet from stockings. Glamorous.
An action figure needed a cape. With red velvet fabric I covered the head and with red tulle, I crafted a cape so it was flying in the breeze. Posing the figure with a confident stride, I wanted to convey “faster than a speeding bullet” strength.
At the very end, I realized I forgot to give my figure breasts. Quickly I found two small brass tacks and stuck them on like nipples. To my surprise with these two tacks and the gaping stomach hole below like a mouth, I suddenly saw Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Scary. I liked it.
When the workshop ended, we were asked to discuss our sculptures and the objects we had incorporated. I froze. Would I tell these strangers and Melissa that my husband died – and that he took his own life with a bullet?
When my turn came, I was shaking. But I looked at Belly Bullet Woman as I called her – strong, invincible, and unfazed by the bullet passing through her stomach – and told the story. And then I remembered something I had completely forgotten until that moment.
My older stepson and I had written good-bye letters to my late husband, which were cremated with his body. My younger stepson had not been able to write that letter. I wanted something to represent him, too. Frantically searching his room, I found a small red Superman cape from an old Halloween costume. I took the cape to the crematorium and spread it over the sheet that covered my late husband’s body, next to the letters.
Maybe I wished he had been Superman. Or maybe that we would gain Superman’s strength to survive this. And maybe that’s how the action figure idea began.
Creating sculptures was an antidote for my trauma and grief. With wire, velvet, rhinestones, fishnet stockings and a bullet I digested and made visible the unseen and the unspeakable. The figures impacted others and exploded something in me. I found an artist within -and a silver lining.
The second sculpture I created was Baby Love… Lead Role in a Cage… The sculpture was inspired by a discussion in the class about children. Having had no children, I felt the loss and created this sculpture around this pain. I gave the figure pacifiers as nipples, and eggs in a glass tube near her belly. Attached to her with a diaphanous umbilical cord is a baby in a red cage. She is looking back at the baby with a black face and veil like a widow. Unconsciously, I think this sculpture is also about losing my husband,” my baby”, and my grief around it. The gravel on the bottom is from a property my late husband I shared in the country. The crunching of it beneath my car was the last sound I heard before hearing of his death.
Sin City Bride, the third sculpture was inspired by my wedding in Las Vegas. It was glittery, glamorous, and, yes, a bit cheesy. This sculpture touches on reflection and the past, symbolized by the figure posed from the back, looking into a mirror with a timepiece attached to her back. It is also about the unknowing uncertainty of dreams and wishes. There are dice scattered around her – reminding us that how life unfolds can be a bit of a crapshoot.
Love Shack Baby, my fourth sculpture, was created around my wish for the future – for a new life and love. Symbolized by the ancient biblical story of Adam and Eve and the original sin. She is wearing a crystal heart with shattered glass beneath it. Falling in love you risk a broken heart.
My most recent sculpture is called Against the Wind. It was inspired by my wish to emerge from the darkness strong and triumphant. —
Natalie Korytnyk Forrester, PhD is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Washington, DC. She is an alumni at Washington Psychoanalytic Program New Directions in Writing and Psychoanalysis and is affiliated with the George Washington Center for Integrative Medicine. Website: www.DrNatalieK.com Email: Natalie@DrNatalieK.com
- Sculpting Grief © Natalie Korytnyk Forrester. Artist Statement: My figurative sculptures are about the difficult, often unspeakable feelings related to death and loss and the unknowing uncertainty of dreams and wishes. They are also about strength, dignity, femininity, sensuality, and sexuality – the life forces that pull us forward in the midst of adversity.