sixty-four (1986/suffering machines)

by nike, August 19, 2016
Picasso's Weeping Woman

Picasso’s Weeping Woman. 1937. Collection of the National Gallery of Victoria.

The year of the fire tiger, which should mean that you rise upward: your energy is expansive.

Halley’s comet reached its perihelion (its closest point to the sun), during its second visit to our solar system in the last 100 years.

Bob Hawke was prime minister, and looked a lot like my father. This was years after I saw Hawke’s daughter sitting barefoot in the gutter in Nimbin (or so my father claimed, pointing her out to me). Years after my own father presciently shook his head and spoke of how a daughter’s descent can break a man.

Anita Cobby was abducted, robbed, raped, murdered. Her face was in all the papers, obscured. A cop friend of our family wept when he described the body, what had been done to it. You were the size of a raisin. I threw up almost every hour, in parks and on buses and in the street.

The first child carried by a non-related surrogate mother was born and quickly became the subject of a custody battle in the US. The court decided that the surrogate was the legal mother, but that the donor parents (the parents who had contracted her to have the child, and who had used their sperm to create the ova that became Baby M) should have custody of the baby.

Neville Wran was the premier of the state in which you were born (New South Wales). He had been premier for ten years, and resigned in March (you were barely the size of an acorn).

Australia became legally independent from the UK, though many of the white folk in this place still refer to England as home. Your home was my body, encased in a caravan on the Central Coast of New South Wales. The annexe was speckled with holes that let in the light. It looked like a constellation of stars.

Three people I knew, friends, died of AIDS. The first Australian AIDS death had occurred just three years earlier, in 1983. This was before the grim reaper ads, before the panic had spread into the straight, mainstream world.

In July, there was 8cm of snow in Hobart. In August, a low pressure system dumped a record 32 and some centimetres of rain on Sydney. We were in a bus shelter, stranded, trying to make it to the antenatal clinic at the Gosford District Hospital. My blood pressure was too high and you were due two days ago.

Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach was the number one hit in Australia, which should have seemed ironic, but was not. It was number one for six weeks. The week I took you home from the hospital, Madonna was toppled by Bananarama’s Venus. But in the car on the way home your father cranked up Brian Cadd’s A Little Ray of Sunshine.

The animation firm of Pixar was founded, or at least, it became a corporation (you were 12 years old when their first film, A Bug’s Life, came out).

Your paternal grandfather’s friend told me that you would be a boy, and offered me comfort, saying she knew I was scared but that my body would take over. My body would know what to do. (It did not).

Elizabeth Jolley’s novel, The Well, won the Miles Franklin Literary Award. David and Margaret began reviewing films on SBS.

Tracy Pew (you never met, and nor did we), the bass guitarist of The Birthday Party, The Saints, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, passed away. He was 28 years old. Younger than you are now. He died as a result of injuries sustained while experiencing a seizure in the bathtub. I cried at his passing. It was the first death of a rock star that meant something to me. Something personal. I played old Birthday Party records over and over, until the records grew too scratched. I hoped you would be born to the soundtrack of Prayers on Fire, perhaps to the rage and beauty of ‘Zoo-Music Girl’, but in the end there was no music, only my own keening and the wails of the woman in the next room (My body is a monster driven insane / My heart is a fish toasted by flames)

Just over two weeks before you were born, on 2 August, Picasso’s Weeping Woman was stolen from the National Gallery of Victoria. The self-named ‘Australian Cultural Terrorists’ wrote various letters to Race Matthews, then Victorian Minister for the Arts. They stated that the theft was ‘a protest against the niggardly funding of the fine arts in this hick State’ and demanded that the minister commit to arts funding increases of 10% over three years, and a new annual arts prize (to be called The Picasso Ransom). The letter referred to Matthews as the ‘Minister of Plod’.

B. A. Santamaria suggested that, if the Australian Cultural Terrorists destroyed the painting, they should be granted the Order of Australia.

Picasso, who had painted her in 1937, had once said that it was a painting of his most famous mistress, Dora Maar: ‘For me,’ he said, ‘she’s the weeping woman. For years I’ve painted her in tortured forms, not through sadism, and not with pleasure, either; just obeying a vision that forced itself on me. It was the deep reality, not the superficial one.’

Elsewhere he said that the painting was ‘important, because women are suffering machines.’

[Paul Keating as the weeping woman, delivering his 1986 budget.
Bob Hawke
as art-lover. Perhaps the third fellow is Race Matthews.]

On the day you were born, Picasso’s Weeping Woman was found in locker 227 at Spencer Street Station in Melbourne. It was wrapped in brown paper and string. She is one of a series of paintings on this theme: the most famous of them, due to her having been once lost, and then returned.

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