By Emily Duffy
When I first visualized the BraBall, it reminded me of toys I'd seen on visits to San Francisco's Chinatown: papier mâchè balls about the size of a baseball, with shiny, pretty paper around them, and a little toy hidden inside. I envisioned the BraBall resembling these objects. I saw it having a central core with items relating to breasts and bras inside a capsule, which was covered first by many layers of plain-colored bras, and then by bright, colorful ones.
The surprising size of the BraBall (now over half its goal, the height of the average American woman - five feet, four inches tall), the overwhelming quantity of bras, and the incredible density of the piece catches people off guard and hopefully challenges their assumptions about women's bodies. Our bodies are solid and strong like the sculpture, not wispy and frail like the bras it's made of.
As I began building the BraBall, hooking bras end-to-end, winding them layer upon layer, it couldn't help but reflect other circular shapes; it resembles a globe, an egg, an ovary, a seedpod, a cell, and of course a breast. The sphere is an elemental shape, one of the building blocks of art as well as life. As the bras are linked together, each is like a page in the sculpture's story. A single bra represents a moment in the life of the woman who donated it. It's a portrait of how she was at a particular time, age, and shape. The amazing variety of bras and the differences in wear and strain of their fabric shows how unique each woman's body is.
Breasts are often a source of conflicting emotions for women. Our personal body experiences are rarely reflected in media images we see. A woman may feel ashamed, proud, annoyed, and sexual about her breasts during just one menstrual cycle, or even a single day. Almost every woman has a bra story to tell. Some are traumatic, others joyful. A first bra is one of our culture's rites of passage for women, yet it's often a secret, mumbled between teenaged girls and their mothers in store dressing rooms.
Using bras as an art medium (something I've been doing for several years now) is a way of disrupting some of the longstanding taboos surrounding them. Interweaving stained nursing bras with provocative, augmentation bras somehow balances the distorted images of women's bodies. It reconciles the narrow stereotypes of virgin and whore and fills in the true definitions of women that are missing in between. We're old and young, tall and short, thin and plump, rich and poor, straight and gay, famous and anonymous, and every racial background imaginable. The BraBall includes artists' bras, postal workers' bras, lawyers' bras, mothers' bras, secretaries' bras, students' bras, and even exotic dancers' bras. The bras, made of satin, silk, cotton, or nylon, run the full color spectrum and range of print designs: floral, polka dot, even cartoon characters or signs of the zodiac.
The letters I've received from bra donors reflect the variety of reasons they've wanted to be a part of the BraBall project. Many are upset by the story of how this project began (see BraBall Herstory). Others want to pay homage to the memory of a lost relative or friend, or even the loss of their own breasts. Still others are amused and want to be part of a fun and unique woman-focused project. Some want to help out a fellow artist, and have sent examples of their own art along with bra donations.
Creating the BraBall has been a remarkable experience. My desire to create the sculpture in a specific way, built almost exclusively by women's hands, and with respect for the donors' very personal gifts, is a manifestation of my heartfelt gratitude for the support I've received.
It has been like traversing a minefield to tell the BraBall story only in ways that promoted its positive progress, where it would be taken seriously as an art piece, and, most importantly, so it will never be used to exploit women. Now that it's complete, my goal is to find an appropriate and meaningful home for it; one where women can visit and interact with it. The BraBall is a monument to the women who helped to build it. It is a physical manifestation of the way women support each other.
[Artist's Statement] [Herstory] [Press] [Facts]
[Portfolio] [Résumé] [Links] [Thanks]
BraBall sculpture and Website ©2008 Emily Duffy.