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After first period, seniors began strutting the halls, spreading the salacious word: Today was sex day in Bible class. Living Christian High School’s version of sexual education was taught in Bible—as opposed to, say, Biology—because school administrators believed the sex act—if done right—could be transcendent. In Anatomy class, we memorized the stages of gestation. However, what came before fell under the purview of a man we’ll call Mr. Pastor, the Bible teacher, who also considered Rush Limbaugh videos to be curriculum.

At the 2:45 p.m. bell, Mr. Pastor called my unusually skittish class to order. He slid a transparency onto the overhead machine. A bride and groom stood before a closed gate with the address, “The Secret Garden.” I braced myself for the usual litany of dirt-slinging my kind of Bible believers reserved for premarital activity. However, Mr. Pastor surprised me.

“You don’t need me to remind you that the wages of sin is death,” he said, smiling like a wedding day officiator. “The world is full of it…of people, as they say, just doing it.” Mr. Pastor waved toward windows overlooking a street lined with the single-story sprawl of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“For those willing to follow God’s plan, you will be wondrously rewarded. The gift of sexual relations the Lord Almighty has given unto men and women so that we might marvel in His goodness and share in the Divine wonder of Creation is truly glorious.”

My class shifted in their seats. Girls pulled down knee-length skirts; boys straightened neckties. Everyone prepared to take notes.

Keep reading! 

The exhibition of Ghada Amer’s Rainbow Girls is currently showing at the Cheim & Read gallery through May 10, 2014.

As fan of her soft-core portraits and a writer, I was especially excited to see how Amer incorporated language into her canvases of women.

“In fact, it is the first time,” art historian, Anne Creissels, introduced in the show’s catalogue, “that body and text, images and words are literally woven together.”

The Rainbow Girl 2012

Ghada Amer “The Rainbow Girl 2012”

I was immediately drawn into the gallery by The Rainbow Girl 2012. The colored-pencil-like lines reminded me of playing with those Hasbro Fashion Face Plates as a child in the ’80s. Moving closer I was delighted to see that the embroidery–that so often, in Amer’s work, recalls the historically unique female pastime of needlework–was stitched into block-lettering reminiscent of learning our ABCs to spell out the famous feminist quote by Simone de Beauvoir: “ONE IS NOT BORN BUT RATHER BECOMES A WOMAN,” à laOn ne naît pas femme : on le devient.”

I loved the entirety of the show so much it made me want to learn Arabic. If only so I could know what was on Belle 2014‘s mind, or crawl inside of the globe-like sculpture of bronze with black patina and read The Words I Love the Most 2012–as it was intended, from the inside out.

However, it was Norah 2014 that spoke to me. Behind the stereotypical, wide-open, beckoning female face, with loose strands of thread hanging down like wisps of hair, the manifesto of Margaret Sanger declared: “NO WOMAN CAN CALL HERSELF FREE WHO DOES NOT CONTROL HER OWN BODY.” The artwork rallied me. All that Norah 2014 embodied incited me to continue writing my own story, as well as help give voice to others. For women around the world, there remained so much to say, do, and create at hand.

Ghada Amer Norah 2014

A close-up of Ghada Amer’s “Norah 2014”

The catalogue of Rainbow Girls is online. I adore Cheim & Read for making a $50 book freely available to all with an Internet connection.

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