Sawyer Rose is a sculptor and installation artist who has been working on a project called the Carrying Stones that is currently on display at the NUMU through January 23, 2022.
The Carrying Stones Project is about inequities that women suffer from in the workplace, society, and home. So what was the impetus to begin the Carrying Stone project?
When I started the carrying stones project, I had a toddler and an infant at home. And I was drowning under the weight of both my paid work and my unpaid domestic labor. And I tend to be a researcher. So, I thought, you know, if I’m having this much trouble with the advantages that I have, this must be a story that goes a lot deeper. So I started researching and found that Yeah, it is. And that’s how the carrying stones project began. When did that begin? That was in 2014 when I started the research, and the first piece was in 2015. And what was the first piece? The first piece is not here; it was a 20 foot long 1000 piece sculpture that recorded the working hours of 47 different women in the workforce who also had children. Not all my work is about women with children, but that one was 1000 out of 1000 tiles representing 1000 women’s work hours.
And so the idea of stone or the weightiness, what are you communicating with that?
The title carrying stones comes from a Portuguese expression that I heard in Brazil. And sometimes, when you ask a woman what she’s been doing, she’ll say, oh, I’ve just been carrying stones. And that means she’s been at work at our paid job all day. And then she comes home and is the pillar that holds up her family. So, I thought, oh, wow, that’s really fitting for this topic. That was very much in my mind at the time. And so, when I did begin this project, it seemed the perfect name.
So, then your own personal journey and period stone were when you were working at a professional life and domestic responsibilities and stuff like that.
What some of the different kinds of stories and research that you found that were similar, but then other stones that other people were carrying the two, were surprised at or say, overwhelmed you? As I started looking for different women’s worth stories, I learned how many similarities there are and how many vast differences there are both at the same time. And so, the topic began to feel really juicy to me because it is very multi-layered. So, what I learned was that women who have caring responsibilities either for children or for elders are affected, across the board, by many different age groups. But I also learned that women of color disproportionately affected women in low-paying jobs are significantly affected by women’s labor inequity.
And, and I started learning about just, you know, out of my interest, like, what could be done about that, you know, once we knew these facts, and we told these stories and put a face to these facts.
What can be done? You know, what can be done to kind of, like, take some of those stones away, right? So, certainly, within your household, redistributing the labor, that’s, you know, seems the obvious first step. Still, on a broader level, engaging girls from the time they’re young in leadership programs is essential. You know, if you can see it, you can be it. And in the workplace, true allyship is really important. And when I say true allyship, it means paid maternal leave, paid paternal leave – that is just as important if you’re asking people to divide the work. It also means rearranging things for women in low-paying jobs, like, you providing health care for less than 40 hours a week jobs, providing childcare, or, you know, help with elder care for people who need that, you know when you’re making very little. Then you have to miss because of family responsibility, that you’re making less still. So.
Talk about your work as an artist. Do you see yourself as a catalyst for change in society or a mirror? How would you even describe “Carrying Stones”? A commentary? You know, yes, it’s a commentary. Yes, it’s a mirror. But my particular interest is in education because when I started this, I was only dealing with one audience member, and that was my husband. And really, myself, and I thought, well, these are all fascinating statistics. But statistics are numbers, and they don’t have names and faces and stories. How can I humanize these numbers and really build bridges to people who don’t know anything about the topic yet? So for me, it’s bringing awareness.
When I build my pieces, I purposely build them to be aesthetically pleasing, and they attract you visually because I want you to come up close. And then I want you to look at the wall text and go, Oh, wow, I had no idea that that’s what this was about. And now I’ve learned something, and I do get that reaction all the time. And that, to me, is winning.
Would you say that your art practice is driven to educate? Would you say that’s kind of like your personal voice and mission? It always has been. I can’t stop giving people my opinion on things, it seems. Before I started the scaring stones project, the series of work was about California native plants. And when endemic plants, you know, there were only found in California, we’re going extinct. And that all started because, you know, I had this amazing plant in my front yard, and I looked it up, so again, it led from research to Hey, I found out something, too. Oh, y’all gotta know this.
Let’s talk about a couple pieces in particular. Yeah. Okay. So, the way the sculptures in the show work is, I first find a woman with an interesting work story. And mainly a story that has some sort of angle that I’d like to share with people. So, this woman, Lauren, is a professor of African American and US history, but she’s also the mother of an elementary school-aged child. And the thing that I find interesting is that women in academia are very, are typically undervalued; they’re promoted less often, they’re paid much less. And she feels that. So, what I do once I find the woman whose story I want to tell, I developed a timekeeping app that they can just have on their phone. And, over two weeks or so, they tell me hour by hour, how much paid labor they’ve done, how much unpaid work they’ve done, and when they’ve done anything else, other than sleep. So I translate that then into one of these large-scale sculptures. And in the case of Lauren’s piece, I made it look kind of like books because you know, she’s in academia, and that really worked with her personality.
In this particular piece, the brown books are her paid labor, and the white books are her unpaid labor. And the very few spaces that you see in the matrix are the hours where she was doing anything other than work. And so, you got to remember that anything other than work means you see your friends, but it also means getting your exercise going to the dentist. It’s anything, so the whole rest of her life is in those very few spaces.
So, that personal work is like brushing your teeth? And exercise isn’t considered as personal work; that’s just other survival.
Describe what the categories of personal work are there? Well, so there are really only three categories. There’s working for pay, working for no pay, and then everything else, including brushing your teeth taking your shower.
This is Darlene. She’s a educate. She works like six jobs. Darlene is an absolute powerhouse. She is a teaching artist. In addition to her own studio work, she has taught in the Oakland schools. She teaches at a nonprofit she teaches to adults with disabilities. She you know, at the time when I made this piece, she was working six different gigs.
Just to both follow her passion and to make ends meet. And one of the things that interested me in this piece was taking a deep dive at volunteerism because volunteerism statistically falls disproportionately to women. You know, it’s work. It’s caretaking work for the larger community. It’s work that has to get done. And Darlene is one person who takes it on. And doesn’t get paid. And so, her sculpture works the same way that they all do.
The gold sacks represent her paid labor, and you can see that there’s a rock inside each one like she’s collected that piece of money. The Silver sacks that looked like the bottoms have ripped out are her unpaid labor, and you can see the stones on the ground underneath. Like she hasn’t collected that money. And the spaces in the matrix are the hours when she was not working.
This piece is called Tracy, and she works full time as an attorney and mother to an eight-year-old daughter at the time, who is a budding martial arts star. So, you know, she has that responsibility to get her to all the practices, training schedules, and tournaments. And I thought that was a really interesting work story, not one you hear every day.
The reason I chose the forms in this Tracy, her personality is very hard to say. She’s rather stage she’s very calm, her Demeter demeanor is grounded. I chose the mortar forums for her work because she is a fairly serious, grounded person, and that seemed to fit, and then the metal wireframes are her unpaid labor. But again, geometric, regular. She is the steady hand on the wheel. So, her piece reflects that in the aesthetics I’ve chosen, the way I think about it is I can choose anything. So, you know, how do I justify it against the personality of the person?
Each piece has little easter eggs in it about the woman that’s about. So, it’s nothing that you would know, maybe unless I told you, but I put little details in that reflect each woman’s personality. She told me her favorite color was this beautiful, bright blue. And I said, Alright, I can work with that.
In the Lauren piece that I was talking about before, I made the sizes of the books. The brown books are the sizes of academic publishing standards. And the white books are the size of children’s books, publishing standards. So, there’s each piece has little things that, you know, besides the larger things like the materials and the colors that I use, you know that every choice that I make, I try to make it reflect the personality of the woman that the piece is about.