The Walls We Wear by Wendy Withrow

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The idea for The Walls We Wear came out of my anger about the border wall along our southern border. I was disgusted with our priorities as a nation, the amount of money and resources going to its construction that instead could be used to help so many Americans in need, the environmental costs, the symbolism of division from our neighbors, the act of turning our backs on people in crisis. I sat with the question of what makes a person hate another person or see someone as “other”? And then, I realized that it is easy to assign blame to politicians in Washington and point a finger at others. It is harder to come to terms with the fact that I, too, carry my own internal walls, biases, and psychological baggage that disconnects me from others. That in ways known or unknown to me, I contribute to the systems and experiences that divide and hurt people around me. I have to start with me.

From birth, our lived experiences shape our interior landscape. When these experiences are painful or traumatic, we often erect psychological walls to protect ourselves. We carry these walls with us all the time, unseen but powerfully affecting our interactions with others. While they can be necessary in order to shield us from pain, they can also disconnect and divide us from each other. What if we brought them into the light, named them, wore them where we could see them and remember, began to tear them down?

The Walls We Wear is a book, a sculpture, and a bracelet. As a book, it serves as a record of walls we carry. While these can be different for everyone, I named barriers that I believe are fairly universal. This is not a comprehensive list by any means, but pulls from my own lived experiences. As a sculpture, The Walls We Wear serves as a visual reminder of the way walls divide and separate us. Lastly, it is a wearable bracelet. In the way that a mala is used as a tool for focusing attention during meditation, this book can be worn as a reminder of the barriers we carry with us always and as a tool for change through self-awareness.

Artist Bio

Wendy Withrow has a BFA in ceramics from Grand Valley State University in Michigan. She went on to earn a diploma in bookbinding in 2008 from North Bennet Street School in Boston. While in Boston she had the opportunity to complete internships at the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, MA, and at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. In 2009 she started Windy Weather Bindery in Grand Rapids, MI, focused on making custom books and boxes for private clients. In more recent years, she has shifted her focus to making artistic work in response to her life experiences. Her artist books have been exhibited in juried shows at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, The Morgan Conservatory, the Guild of Bookworkers, Paper Circle, and the Concord Museum in Concord, MA, among others.