The Art of

Anne T. Kmieck

Artist Statement

In my search for what it means to navigate the world from a female body, I use clothing as a metaphor to explore a wide range of subject matter related to gender and identity. History is as much a medium as the fiber, wax, and other materials integrated into my installations. Actions and images on the fabric surface can evoke biological, social-political, or religious-philosophical forces that bear upon us. My treatment of the surface of the fabric range from layering and manipulation to traditional textile techniques such as embroidery. Embedded in each work’s process is my preoccupation with transcendence and beauty, two concepts that are deeply rooted in the quest for what it means to be human.

Individual Installations

Annunciare: A Child’s Garden of Gender

Gallery 2018

These dresses are for a child regardless of his or her biological sex. Each design was inspired by a depiction of the Angel Gabriel in a painting from the Annunciation genre, and incorporates original hand-embroidered symbols of both sexes’ organs into an embellished motif. Each clothing tag shows the original painting and states: For Your Little Angel Gabriel or Gabriela. The dress stands combine small toys from both genders and they are layered in encaustic wax to enhance a rainbow effect. In terms of the past, we might reconsider interpretations of the human condition from artists, and the ornate fashion enjoyed by both sexes many centuries ago, long before genetic science affirmed the complexity surrounding sex.

Aggiornamento: One Body, A Million Minds

Gallery 2015 - 2017

Aggiornamento means bringing up to date. These undergarments are designed to make women’s powerful majesty visible, and to invite anyone to luxuriate in the beauty and wisdom of being female. The Million Cuts Swords, the Bodacious Bodice and Ovarian Chaps recall medieval armor, symbols of protection. The hand-embroidered relief design reference female reproductive organs: the uterus, ovaries, and mammary glands. The chaps incorporate pearl-like beads in a range of sizes representing ova. Owing to the number of beads, the weight of the chaps promotes a significant sensation of power, warmth, and perhaps burden. The idea of the power of the ovaries is an important concept since in reality theses testicles are invisible. Both the bodice and chaps are adjustable with ample room to fit any body type of either biological sex. The Pearls of Wisdom, and the Adonis-like mannequin, with its Pink Matter Helmet, reference ancient Greece, the original source of our binary gender system. On the floor, The Mosaic of Enlightened Thoughts invites visitors to add their “Pearls of Wisdom” to the installation. This work celebrates and promotes a tactile experience to consider our shared humanity. How will future generations inhabit their sex?

Riparazioni: Meditations on the Fullness of Being (Woman)

Gallery 2007 – 2014

As an artist, I can’t resist articulating and charging a space with objects that question assumptions and break open alternative perspectives. This installation of dress and object ensembles was my attempt to create artifacts of history and to assemble them in a way that invites a viewer to navigate among them. I wanted to give palpability to the lives of extraordinary women using sumptuous tactile references from the world this particular group of women inhabited, the church. However, for the eras of most of these women, there was virtually no separation between secular and spiritual governing. Two of the women featured were twentieth century Americans, who bridged the two realms seamlessly in their actions and works. My interest lies in the richness and breadth of their thinking about life, their sex, humanity, and how their ideas were married to activities within the public realm. In many cases, the same woman experienced times of encouragement and conversely, times of deep authoritative suppression that, in several cases, shortened her life.

Working on this project was a profound experience. The marrying of research and thinking with the act of embroidery was a leap of faith, since I had no previous training in needlework. I was possessed by the idea of using a medium that if it wasn’t invented by women, it certainly had been sustained by them. The imagery and designs were inspired by the work, philosophy, and life events of each woman, which involved mining the art, textiles, and environment of her culture. In some cases, I traveled abroad to breathe the earthly fragrances that might have comforted her in times of trial, and to walk the stones that bore her steps during moments of joyful contemplation. Each dress, a christening gown which refers to rebirth, is suspended over a symbolic object that has been layered in wax and set upon a classical pedestal. Many of these objects are the woman’s own work in its original language. The women featured in chronological order are Mary, Prisca, Brigid, Hildegard, Catarina, Jeanne, Angela, Teresa, Juana, Dorothy, and Thea. [For the exhibition text about each woman and her design references, please contact the artist.]

Naming the Rose

Gallery 2005 – 2007

The title of my installation was inspired by the words of Bernard of Morlay, a 12th century monk: "stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus." All (these) departed things leave (only, or at least) pure names behind them."

This is a reflection on two pilgrimages. One was to the barrios and maquilladoras bordering the U.S. at Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The other was to the Vatican. Both places were complete in their sensory inundation: one raw and Bacchanal, and the other highly polished and Appollian. In both places, I felt the depth of human limitation and tragedy, one openly festering, the other commingled with sacred rituals and transcendent art. The most profound sensation was a ponderous silencing of the female both in body and in spirit.

This installation is a memorial to the over 400 girls and women who were slain since 1993 in the Jaurez region. The mothers of these mostly young women wept as they testified to the painful journey from the initial trauma that their daughter was missing to the excruciating dealings with police, the media, and the church whose assumptions of "bad girls" undermined investigations. In this space, sensory and conceptual ideas are intermingled from both places and visitors are invited to participate in honoring the victims.

There are eleven garments hung in the configuration of three clotheslines, ubiquitous in the barrios of Mexico. The garments are pink like the crosses erected throughout the Juarez region wherever the victims’ bodies were recovered. No longer for the living, the garments are coated in encaustic wax, white like the funerary candles that change form but not their essence. Above the clotheslines a ten minute video projects the 'pure' names of the victims. The letters of the names have been burned out of silky material. As the camera moves outward, the words turn into filmy lace that takes form in a gently swaying gown. As the clothesline garments have been stilled by the layers of wax, the motion of the gown in the video contradicts the marble in Michelangelo's Pieta, a powerful statement of maternal grief and the inspiration for the pose of the gown. On the opposite wall is a tabernacle bearing hundreds of hand-made votive cards dedicated to each victim identified. A tiny Milagro dress is clipped to each card with miniature clothespins. These are made from paper and coated in wax. At left is a small handmade booklet describing the support groups for the surviving families of Ciudad Juarez. Visitors may make a donation using the envelopes and take a votive card. At the computer station, a visitor reads the name of a victim, her age, and her date of death into a microphone. The reading is saved and entered into an audio track which creates a resounding litany across the gallery. After recording the victim's name, the visitor signs her own name to the name sheet, walks across the gallery and clips it to a wire on this wall. The red wire grid is reminiscent of the fences surrounding the barrios and maquilladoras in Ciudad Juarez, sites of memorials as the places of abduction and body recoveries.

Out of the Closet: Her Side

Gallery 2004 – 2005

Out of the Closet: Her Side continues the exploration begun in the original series entitled Out of the Closet. But unlike the first body of work that expresses the ideas and the values generated by men about women from both the secular and the religious domains before the nineteenth century, the dresses in Her Side were inspired by the words and art powerfully exposed by women about the female condition as they experienced it in the late eighteenth to early twentieth century. Contemporary clothing is deliberately altered because none of the issues that these courageous women risked addressing has been conquered, whether it is higher risk for destitution, justifying oppression through religion, adequate funding of women’s health needs, the double standards that still exist between women and men in every sphere, or the grief and savage brutality that noncombatant women suffer during war. We have a long road ahead before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for Women become a reality for all women.

Individual Works: Out of the Closet: Her Side

Economy of Words

"It is a truth universally acknowledged,

that a single man in possession of a good fortune,

must be in want of a wife."

Thus begins Jane Austen's most beloved novel. Equally assumed, but not stated in Pride and Prejudice is that a single woman must be in want of a man in possession of a good fortune. Written in her twenty-first year, Pride and Prejudice tells the evocative story of her heroine Elizabeth Bennet's transformation in the space of her own twenty-first year. Although Miss Bennet is not in possession of a good fortune and her only hope of future security is through marriage, she is in possession of a fiercely independent and lively intellect that ultimately transforms her haughty antagonist, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, a man who is in possession of a good fortune.

Virtually all the novel's action is conveyed through dialogue. The epicenter of the novel is Mr. Darcy's first marriage proposal to Ms. Bennet in which he conveys "His sense of her inferiority-of its being a degradation...was very unlikely to recommend his suit." Through the course of her rejection, "[h]is complexion became pale with anger, and the disturbance of his mind was visible in every feature.." She continued: "I might as well enquire,...why with so evident a design of offending and insulting me, you chose to tell that you liked me against your will, against your reason, and even against your character?..." It is this explosive scene that has been inscribed into the skin of this dress and melded into a layer of George III era shillings.

Stars and Stripes and Red All Over

This dress, under construction, explores the interrelationship between the privileged and the oppressed. The words of the freed American slave Isabella Baumfree, who called herself Sojourner Truth, have been burned into the stripes then fused with red wax to the satin. This cogent elucidation of religious tenets, that are twisted to justify domination of women, was given in an extemporaneous speech in Akron in 1851. The trim of balls is made of hair, and cottony fiber has been cut into the shape of the North Star, a symbol found in 19th century African American quilts, a palpable reminder of the excruciating journey to freedom.

Inside the Wallpaper

This work was inspired by a short story by the late nineteenth early twentieth century feminist scholar Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a story described by Ann J. Lane as the "only deeply self-examining writing she ever did." "The Yellow Wall-Paper" is narrated by a young mother whose physician-husband has decided to cure her "slight hysterical tendency" by separating her from her newborn, and locking her into an old nursery. The young woman's diary becomes a riveting journey into madness. As the lonely days unfold, the patterns on the crumbling wallpaper of the nursery take on a life of their own: hers.

A Solitary Soul

This title was Kate Chopin's original name for her masterpiece novella of 1898, The Awakening. In this controversial work, Kate Chopin crossed literary boundaries by exploring a woman's identity beyond the fulfillment of marriage and motherhood. Drawing upon the sensuous qualities found in the Gulf of Mexico region near New Orleans, the story traces the evolution of Mrs. Edna Pontellier's awareness as a sexual being: "the voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, clamoring, murmuring,inviting the soul to wander for a spell in the abysses of solitude..."

Kate Chopin, born Catherine O'Flaherty, was greatly influenced in her childhood by strong autonomous women, her widowed mother and grandmother, her great- grandmother, and the Sisters of St. Louis Academy of the Sacred Heart who urged her to "live a life of the mind as well as the life of the home." By all accounts, she was happily married to Oscar Chopin in New Orleans until his sudden death after twelve years of marriage. She returned to St. Louis with their six children, and at the age of 39 she began to write. Her work explored difficult themes including post-Civil War racism, and female and male relationships. Though many women celebrated The Awakening, the searing reviews by the male-dominated literary community in 1899 brought her brief critically acclaimed career to an abrupt end. She died five years later at the age of 54.

Born Still

This work was inspired by German artist Kathe Kollwitz’s woodcut entitled Die Witwe I (The Widow I), 1922-3. The juxtaposition of pregnancy with death evokes numerous thoughts of war: the anguished widow, the mourning mother's haunting memories of her child-turned soldier, and hope for a future family crushed. Kathe Kollwitz, whose art documented impoverished people who filled her home waiting for her physician husband’s services, lost her son Peter in his first days of combat during World War I. In addition to mourning the loss of loved ones, other concepts can be added in a country torn asunder by war. While more men are killed in action, thousands of girls and women are scarred for life as victims of gender-based violence such as rape, forced prostitution, and torture. In the 1990s, UNICEF estimated that at one point during the Balkans war, more than 20,000 women and girls had been raped, and in Rwanda, almost 16,000.

The concept of being Born Still in a world where wars continue to be waged provides hope that the next generation will end the insanity before the insanity silences all, both from within and those of us beyond the womb.

Out of the Closet

Gallery 2000 – 2004

A working trip to Mexico in 1997 deeply affected my art. I was struck by the Mexican cultural views that the past coexists with the present and what appears on the surface of events veils deeper meanings. In other words, things are not as they seem. Also, I was captivated by the Indigenous people’s celebration of their traditions and language through their clothing. In my work since Mexico, I have used clothing to explore a variety of historical, social, religious, biological, and popular intellectual constructs about the female body.

The dress functions as a metaphor for the female body, and the fabric is its skin. Ideas of public and private realms are examined in the processes of altering the original fabric of the dress. Like the epidermal layer of the body, treatment can range from burying the outer surface of the dress with many actions of layering to penetrating the surface by piercing or burning imagery into the skin exposing layers beneath. The veils of materials used include pigments, oil, wax, dried vegetation, and lipstick.

These works come from the series entitled Out of the Closet. Among the issues about the female body investigated in this series were the spiritual versus the corporeal, private versus public, mythological versus historical, and popular versus canonical. The mixed materials added to the fiber in both color and viscosity, resonate ideas of vegetation, soil, milk, blood, tissue, and other organic matter inspired by microscopic imaging. In some works, patterning and color were directly inspired by historical art works of periods illumined. Contemporary clothing is deliberately used because like our inherited DNA which quietly controls cellular activity, certain historical intellectual constructs continue to be planted deep in our psyche owing to religious and social ethos. It is my hope that by mining ideas from the past, we can liberate ourselves from those that chain and vigorously embrace those that celebrate the awe and beauty of womanhood.

Individual Works: Out of the Closet

Oracle Matters

Oracle means womb. Each piece of clothing has a decorative rendering of the female reproductive organs appropriate for different stages in womanhood. The lacy uterine and ovarian design is burned out of the fabric near its anatomical location under the garment. The design merges the private with the public, a sort of denouncement or transcendence of the intellectual construct about the female body rooted in ancient Greece where women were not permitted to participate in the public sphere. The shapeless shirt decorated with six uteruses pointing outwardly, symbolizes the liberation of fertility from biological reproduction to multiple acts of expression.

Caer Wydyn – Adolescence

Temple – Toddler

Delphi – Youth

Gate (Aphrodite’s) – Marriage

Acropolis – Full Body

Matu – Motherhood

Wisdom – Maturity


Lilith was the first woman to be created according to Hebrew legend. Here she has no wings but her female form is embedded in the dress like a tattoo. The colors resonating desert and water, signify the opposing or complimentary dynamics of temperature and substance involved in creation in the Fertile Crescent.

Perennial Shifts: Spring and Fall

Perennial Shifts: Spring and Fall is a metaphor for Eden before and after the fall in paradise. The robe symbolizes the chill of being cast out of the garden. Its rose pattern represents the female genitalia, a cherished idea in ancient Arab poetry and other earlier civilizations. However, for third and fourth century Christian church fathers, the fall was the advent of sexual lust and women were the gateway to Satan. The color red signifies the scourge women have endured throughout history as daughters of Eve. Together, the garments express the two paradigms which are still being held to women in many societies and cultures today.

The Serpent and The Rose

The Serpent and The Rose features symbols for Satan and Christ respectively. The rose was traditionally placed over the heart. The serpent swirls throughout the skirt, the region of sinful desire.

Burning Desires

Burning Desires tries to capture the brutal denouncement of the body in seeking its transcendence. Self-flagellation, a promoted practice during the Middle Ages, is symbolized by the treatment of the skirt. A pattern of gold crosses cover the skirt, each cross created by four tiny safety pins. Lipstick and gold leaf ooze around the punctured area of the crosses. The bodice was inspired by Francisco de Goya's portrayal of angel wings in his frescos of the late medieval saint for the hermitage of San Antonio de la Florida in Madrid.

Queen of Heaven (Words Made Flesh)

Queen of Heaven incorporates the words from ancient religious texts worshipping Ishtar, Isis, and Juno, through early Christian doctrines, Gothic mysticism, Renaissance poetry, to the present day church proclamations and appearance testimonies around the Virgin Mary. The words have been burned into the fabric. The earliest texts begin on the lowest ruffle and work upward chronologically to create a lily plant. The words and floral shapes have been dusted over with colored pigments evoking the shimmer of a stained glass window.


Behind the gold and silver leaf surface, reminiscent of the dazzling reliquary boxes of the Medieval and Gothic eras, are layers of wax, pigment, and dried vegetation, signifying vestiges of a former life breaking through its encasement.

For Thyne Is The Kingdom

.."Nature had made women 'weak, frail, impatient, feeble, and foolish; and experience hath declared them to be unconstant, variable, cruel, and lacking the spirit of counsel or regiment'"..."women were urged to keep silent in the presence of men, and to show unfailing obedience to husbands and fathers,...."1

So how could a woman transcend the prevailing wisdom of her era and rule a country for over forty years? The 16th century monarch was besieged by threats both from within and without his kingdom, but his confidence lay in his divine right to rule and support from the pope by virtue of his sex. Elizabeth I stood alone. Though she was far from perfect, she was a brilliant leader whose long-sighted vision and gift for sustainable strategies preserved England from the depth of turmoil that plagued other countries during the Counter-Reformation. Upon accession, she acknowledged her "sexly weakness"2, declared herself "God's His permission a body politic, to govern,"3. and set about wrapping herself and England with the spirit of the Reformation, (as symbolized by the collar).4 She ignored Pope Pius V's excommunication Bull5, and ultimately chose not to diminish her power by sharing her throne with a king. She rose above corporeal desire, and dismissed notions that if a woman was "deprived of coitus", she would suffer from "a poor complexion and an unsteady mind by the ascent of 'naughty vapour' to the brain."6


Well-Manored was inspired by the paintings of Phillip IV's court by Diego Velasquez. Young princesses were looked upon as commodities to build empires and provide future heirs. Malaspina's Great Books declares that in Velasquez's portraits of the infantas found in Vienna, Madrid, and Paris collections, "...a strange picture, indeed, of the eternal feminine is presented by these young figures, paralyzed by etiquette, deformed by ridiculous extravagant fashions."


The title Fornicopia merges two concepts from the Revolutionary period: fornication and cornucopia. The latter symbolized the promise of abundance in a new world governed by the enlightened man, but fornication was thought to be of the exclusive domain of the female, particularly if she dared to pollute the public realm with her sexuality. During its revolution, anonymous pamphleteers infested France with pornographic plays and stories detailing Maria Antoinette's licentious appetites, her liaisons and bestiality, and the guttural conversations that accompanied her perverse sexual acts. All complete fabrications, (including the attribution to her of those famous incendiary words: Let them eat cake), no one doubted Marie Antoinette's guilt, because, after all the republic was in chaos, and woman was to blame. Her execution was a symbolic purging of the body politic of its most formidable threat, feminization. Translations of these texts have been fragmentized into nearly meaningless phrases almost disappearing beneath the lace of the skirt, and swirling red targets have softened into a rose-color pattern. The snake scales of the bodice and center skirt have crystallized into a rich surface of pastel colors, her favorite.

As a foreign princess Marie Antoinette was literally stripped of her Austrian identity at the French border. She had the misfortune to marry a weak king who was unable to "seed" his bride for seven years and who could not escape the machinations rooted in earlier courts. As queen, her gravest sin was incessant self-absorption forgetting that her only value to her king and subjects was to provide an heir to the throne.

1 Anne Somerset, Elizabeth I (Anchor Books, 1991) p. 59 (citations: Carroll Camden, The Elizabethan Woman, (1952) p. 28; John Knox, Works, ed. David Laing, (Edinburgh, 1848) IV, p. 374; Katherine Usher Henderson and Barbara F. McManus, Half Humankind. Contexts and Texts of the Controversy about Women in England 1540 - 1640 (Chicago, 1985) pp. 51 54)

2 Ibid. (citations: J. E. Neale, Elizabeth I and her Parliaments (1953), I, 107; Public Record Office State Papers78/23 fo. 165; J. L. Motley, History of the United Netherlands, (1860) II, 199; J.P. Hodges & Adam Fox (eds.), A Book of Devotions composed by Her Majesty Elizabeth R., (Gerrards Cross, 1977) p. 19)

3 Ibid. (citation: Anthony James Froude, History of England (1893)VI, pp. 15 - 16)

4 The collar is made from the text of the Book of Common Prayer (1559).

5 Somerset 245: "On 25 February 1570 (Pope Pius V) issued the Bull Regnans in Excelsis, depriving "Elizabeth, the pretended Queen of England, the servant of wickedness" of her throne, and declaring that henceforth her subjects were absolved of their allegiance to her." (citation: Claire Cross, The Royal Supremacy in the Elizabethan Church (1969) pp. 152-53)

6 Ibid. 90 (citations: Calendar of State Papers, Foreign Series I, p. 331; Calendar of Letters and State Papers preserved in archives in Simancas, ed. Pascual de Gayangos et al, XI, p. 289; Richard L. Greaves, Society and Religion in Elizabethan England, (Minneapolis, 1981) p. 226; William Murdin, A collection of state papers relating to affairs in the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1571 - 96 (1759) p. 338)