For Jane and Tyler, 2022, Marnie Badham, stacks of worn jeans, The Nurses and Midwives’ Art Exchange, Archive of Feelings Exhibition, The Design Hub, RMIT Gallery, Melbourne.
These worn jeans hold the smells, memories and choreographies of the bodies to whom they belonged: with rips, stains, and frays; in colours indigo, savoy, navy, black, and powder blue; and sizes large, medium, and small… They also store the narratives of fast fashion, textile worker exploitation, gendered labour, and toxic masculinity. Stacked together on the floor, these garments bear witness to our collective anxieties and loss.
I responded to Jane’s artwork Tyler’s Jeans by collecting preloved jeans as tribute to nurses and their patients impacted by an unprepared healthcare system during the pandemic. I was also gifted stories of special memories located in the rips and imprinted stains, children’s growth spurts, body image and weight gain, regrettable online purchases, and comfort garments worn during stay-at-home public health measures in Melbourne. Some contributors left handwritten notes in the pockets for Jane and Tyler, while others passed on stories to me to share. These stories and jeans will be regifted to local folks experiencing housing insecurity in my neighbourhood after the exhibition.
Above my response, hangs Tyler's Jeans, an artwork created by nurse Jane in NYC. Her written response is here below. @_radicalnursing
Tyler’s Jeans, Levi’s brand 3 button indigo-dyed cotton; acrylic paint, metal pants hook Created April 2022 Painted with an onion sprout and onion skin, wooden chop stick and a comb.
Tyler’s Jeans is a memorial to the over 6 million people (some say true numbers are double this) who died of Covid-19 or are dead as a result of a consequence of failed healthcare “system”, a system unprepared. I honor people excluded from care; people in rural or global settings who are unable to access ventilators; people whose lives were lost to addiction and mental illness during pandemic times of lock-down, isolation and stress, and nurses who died of Covid-19. These human left behind clothing that marks lives lived and lives lost. I chose to paint a pair of donated jeans of a beautiful person named Tyler who died of a drug overdose during the third wave pandemic July 2021 to tell my nurse-Covid-19 story. Indigo and cotton are also reminders of the materials of global colonial extraction and the structural violence of racism and capitalism; inequities that persist in the pandemic with consequences for people around the planet, including nurses.
I am drawn to textiles as a medium for creative and artistic expression. Here the use of a worn pair of denim pants invokes to me the actual embodied experience of people and nurses during the Covid-19 pandemic. Early in the pandemic for those of us working in clinical settings there was the gnawing fear and anxiety that we would bring the virus home to our families on our clothing and shoes. In Tyler’s Jeans I explore ideas of clothing soiled as vector of disease; clothing sweat stained and marked with menstrual blood or drips of leaked urine for nurses unable to break PPE to get to the bathroom for basic human body care as they attended to dying patients while wearing protective gear for 12 or more hours at a time. Clothing is soiled in death. Everyday clothing is often made from humble material to be worn and used and thus clothing carries energy and memory, actual vibrant matter that are alive in the fibers.
The Nurses and Midwives’ Art Exchange is an exhibition of creative responses and stories from nurses and midwives who have worked through the pandemic, accompanied by works created by local artists in response to their work. This project acknowledges that frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and nurses and midwives, in particular, have experienced increased workloads, stress, burnout, exposure to illness, and abuse. While they have been acknowledged as heroes, their collective requests for protection, fair pay, and safe and manageable workloads have not been met with the same enthusiasm. Works created will be gifted to participating nurses and midwives at the end of the exhibition, which forms an archive of pandemic responses and activates public conversations about the ongoing impact on nurses and midwives. This project curated by Dr Kelly Hussey- Smith et al. is part of the Archives of Feeling exhibition at RMIT Design Hub Gallery.