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  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 7, No. 2, 2008
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Robert J. Lewis
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Manitoba Art
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Ruben Cukier
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Purivs Young
William Kinnis & Dominique Tremblay
Gudrun Vera Hjartardottir
Gee's Bend Quilt Collective
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

conceived by



[A short while ago I came across the work, The Gown of Stillness, by Magie Dominic, who is described as:

a Newfoundland writer and artist and author of The Queen of Peace Room, a memoir, (Wilfrid Laurier University Press) nominated for The Book of The Year Award by ForeWord Magazine; The Judy Grahn Award, and The Canadian Women's Studies Association Award. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Globe and Mail and Village Voice, and in a variety of international venues including quarterlies, anthologies, newspapers, magazines, librettos and art exhibitions. Her artwork has been exhibited in Canada and the USA, including a presentation at The United Nations. She offers writing workshops throughout Canada and the USA. That description, although accurate, doesn’t begin to describe the emotions that her work evokes.

The Gown of Stillness, Global Art Peace Installation, to give its full appellation, is a mixed media installation with lace, antique fabric, thread, ribbon and other soft fabrics, collected from people world wide, as a sign of hope for global peace. The Gown of Stillness is an ongoing international installation composed of hundreds of fabric pieces, which may be an accurate description, but it is so much more than the sum of its parts. What follows are the words of Magie about The Gown and what prompted her to create the work. Lydia Schrufer. Arts Ed.]

"Community is composed of diversified elements, a broad set of cultures, and people within these cultures are fueled by the art work of one another. In 1994 I published a long autobiographical poem, “Notes From The Cover,” in Arc Quarterly, Ottawa. The poem addressed a number of issues including violence against women and children, incest, rape, abuse.

That same year I attended my first retreat -- eight days in a remote retreat center -- with, unexpectedly, ten Catholic nuns.

I read “Notes From The Cover” for the first time there, in the early evening, on a porch surrounded by trees, and was so overcome with emotion that I couldn’t complete the reading. A sister took the book

while an old man had his way with her
sunday after bloody sunday
and she'd search forever for safety,
(one reason she's not here now)

would stand in a hallway
trying to calm
the rapist with a knife to her head
as if her life depended on it
then fall to the floor

would move her family so many times
trying to save what was already lost.

had no idea her heart could hold so many

During the retreat we discussed an art piece I was thinking about, which would include group participation, and fabric symbolizing a hope for peace. It was only a seed of a thought. I knew for sure that I wanted the company and community of others in its creation but I had no idea of the shape it would take.

In July of 1994, one week after the retreat, I received a letter from one of the sisters. It contained a small square of sturdy white cotton, without any ornamentation. Just a small piece of strong unadorned fabric. The project had begun.

I contacted poets, writers, artists, environmentalists, politicians and community groups and made a simple request. I invited them to send pieces of fabric, which I planned to use in an installation I was creating, called The Gown of Stillness. I enclosed a note: "If this world were a small child in need of healing, I would buy it a hospital gown, extra large, and give it intensive care. I would ask people, all over the world to add beauty, grace and healing. The Gown of Stillness is a visual letter, a work in progress."

There was a metaphoric response that was completely unplanned. Across borders and cultures, races and faiths, the majority of people, strangers to one another, responded with lace. A global language seemed to exist in reference to peace that stepped outside the parameters of language as we know it. Lace, through its fragility, and delicate weave, became language, defying borderlines or cultures. Lace became a global metaphor.

I received lace and embroidery from Canadian poets, writers, musicians and composers; embroidery created by a woman who had been raped in the former Yugoslavia and was now living in a safe house; delicate fabric from a Canadian politician; thin material from an actor dying from AIDS; lace from Europe; lacey-like feathers from the Yukon; pieces from wedding gowns and children's blankets, everyone sharing a universal sensory perspective. Lace equaled symbol; equaled language, equaled hope.

I used a large hospital gown, an image of healing, as the background and wove everything together as one would weave a manuscript.

The Gown of Stillness has become a manuscript in thread, containing a single word, repeated by many, the majority strangers to one another. (The word is Peace. It’s the one word in the Gown, sent by a photographer in the state of Washington.)
At this same time the publisher of the quarterly, a Canadian poet, asked me to write the story of Notes From The Cover. Actually he said, “You have to write the story of this poem.”

It was a daunting task, but I began, and in 2002 published the memoir The Queen of Peace Room, (Wilfrid Laurier University Press). The book was nominated for The Book of The Year Award by ForeWord Magazine; The Judy Grahn Award, and The Canadian Women's Studies Association Award. It was the story of my experiences with violence and in particular violence against women. Each section of the poem became a chapter. My hope was to give a voice to those women who find themselves voiceless. Both The Gown and the book were symbols of a hope for peace, for calm. One personal, one global. There was constant weaving back and forth between the creation of The Gown of Stillness and the simultaneous writing of my memoir, The Queen of Peace Room.

The letters that accompany the fabric pieces are as individual as the senders, and express sentiments regarding hope and healing and an end to violence against humanity. It was as if The Gown and the people who were participating were all instruments of healing, as if The Gown itself had healing power. We are connected in our struggle and in our belief that one heart/one positive action/ one attempt to make a difference will have a resounding effect, and that effect can make a difference in the struggle of our humanity, and offer a continuous glimmer of desperately needed hope.

The Gown is suspended from a hanger, over twelve feet off the ground; its skirt can expand up to fifteen feet. It began with one six inch square of sturdy cotton and currently contains fabric from 93 people in fifteen countries. Its dimensions are constantly increasing. It is an ongoing cross-cultural interaction in the visual arts -- global art, global thought.

The Gown of Stillness has been on exhibit in New York City, Toronto, The Yukon and New Brunswick, Canada. It was recently on exhibit at The United Nations." Magie Dominic, 2008


My hope is that one day The Gown will be room size so people entering the room will actually be entering The Gown.

After my discussions with Magie I read her book, The Queen of Peace Room, a thin volume, which I will definitely re-read; like The Gown it is charged with honesty, sincerity and hope.

Photos by © Magie Dominic & Jennifer Keenan


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