the Missing Woman: Rachel
100 x 200 cm
Acrylic and oil pastels on canvas
This is a commissioned work from Creative youth opportunities.
The Missing Women project was inspired by Francisco de Zurbarán’s celebrated series of paintings, Jacob and His Twelve Sons, which have hung in Auckland Castle’s Long Dining Room for over 250 years.
It is the stories of these five ‘missing women’ that have provided the foundations of the six-month project, devised to look at the idea of giving these women a voice and provide more than 60 young people with the opportunity to work with arts professionals to explore themes and methods of self-expression.
Each of the professional artists - Jilly Johnston, Lady Kitt, Leanne Pearce, Lizzie Lovejoy and Edwina Kung - have been commissioned to paint a life-size portrait of one of the women.
Here are some of my artistic approaches in the making of the portrait:
An outline of your approach to interpreting the story of your missing woman:
When I researched Rachel, I found a wealth of information about her in various sources, including the Bible, documentaries, cartoons, films, paintings, sculptures, and online discussions. She was constantly under scrutiny, both during her lifetime and after her death. Some even say that she continues to grieve for her children to this day. Despite being the missing woman in our project, Rachel possesses a remarkable presence. Her widespread recognition stems from her stories rather than her physical appearance or beauty. What stories are we attempting to convey through our artwork, and how can we leave room for viewers to interpret their own thoughts?
How you worked with the young people to support your interpretation and development:
As a group, we delved into Rachel's story through a series of drawing activities, writing exercises, and discussions.
Exploring Rachel's inner thoughts: In previous sessions, the participants had created portraits of Rachel. In this phase, I asked them to outline the contours of the portrait and depict Rachel's inner thoughts, drawing inspiration from events in her life that resonated with them personally. What might have been going on in Rachel's mind? What thoughts might have crossed her during those moments? The resulting drawings were highly expressive, filled with bold marks and scribbles, conveying her emotions of rage, anger, confusion, and a fearless expression of her thoughts.
Poetry writing: Building on the drawings of Rachel's inner thoughts, we compiled phrases and words that described Rachel. Our intention was not to criticize her actions but to empathize and understand her perspective. Here is the poem I assembled:
Rachel is… Jealous, lonely, overshadowed, underrated, sly, established, a passionate inferno of anger, torn, shattered, positioned both above and below, forgotten, an afterthought, concealed away from prying eyes, lost, courageous, ensnared, frightened, beloved, independent, trapped, self-absorbed, daring, compassionate, beautiful, desired, envied, heartbroken, kind, assertive, perplexed, furious, restrained, in love, irritated, despondent, suffocated, a mother, a daughter, a wife…
Household gods: While discussing Rachel's story during the drawing phase of the workshop, we revisited the part that had piqued everyone's interest: her act of stealing and hiding the household gods from her father. Someone raised the question of what these household gods might look like. Consequently, each of us created our own interpretations of these gods.
What story you believe the portrait tells about the missing woman:
In the earlier chapters of her life, Rachel obediently followed her father's wishes. However, when Laban substituted Leah for her, a surge of anger welled up within her. Despite her anger, she remained silent, secretly aiding Leah due to her empathy for her sister and her fear of her father.
One of the young participants described her as: Rachel is… beautiful A magnificent blaze of smoldering anger.
Rachel's first act of defiance came when she chose to leave her home and father. This was her way of resisting and expressing her anger towards her father. When Laban discovered her departure, he exclaimed to Jacob,
"What did you mean by keeping me in the dark and carrying off my daughters like captives of the sword?"
This statement reveals Laban's view of Rachel as his property, incapable of making her own decisions, and the notion that his daughter might willingly leave him never crossed his mind. Rachel was rebellious, resistant, and disobedient. She even stole the household gods from Laban, and while the Bible doesn't specify her motives, the young participants were most intrigued by this interpretation:
"Rachel stole the household gods because possessing the family’s household gods meant that the holder was entitled to the father’s properties."
Throughout her life, Rachel was scrutinized and judged for her behavior, actions, decisions, and the anger she displayed. Even after her death, she continues to be discussed and revered, symbolizing fertility and motherhood. This recognition is not based on her physical beauty but on her stories. The inner minds I have depicted were inspired by the collective poem and the inner mind drawings created by the young participants.
The household gods beneath her represent different interpretations crafted by the young participants. (As Rachel hid the household gods beneath her, and as Laban searched for them, she said: "Let not my lord take it amiss that I cannot rise before you, for I am in a womanly way.")
Rachel stands alongside all women who challenge boundaries, resist, and strive in their unique ways, offering strength to women facing their own struggles. I hope that viewers will describe what they see and feel when they view the piece, and through their observations, gain a glimpse into Rachel's life through her inner thoughts.