Mandala During a Time of War and Disintegration
by Jenny Badger Sultan; dreamed October 2002 to March 2003, painted 2003, acrylic on canvas, 4' x 4'
In memory of Stephanie Van Zandt Nelson
Before starting this canvas, for about a year, I had intermittent dreams of attack, disaster, and destruction. I had been feeling very disturbed by world events and the U.S. government's determination to go to war. I was also deeply worried about my friend and fellow dreamworker Stephanie Van Zandt Nelson, with good reason as it turned out; she died while I was working on this painting. It's dedicated to her, and there's a portrait of her in the painting--she's the woman with corkscrew curls (left).
I've incorporated one of her sketches, too: a woman in a yellow dress holding a sad child. For years Stephanie did a daily drawing to symbolize her state of being; this one of holding her child-self suggests she was feeling completely overwhelmed. After she died and the war dragged on, I felt much the same.
My first idea for the painting was a vortex, so I began with a huge gestural spiral onto which I applied layers of color. After I had developed this for a while, going back and forth to lighter and darker colors, I laid a black layer of decalcomania* over the whole ground, letting the deep colors show through.
*(Decalcomania: lay paper or cloth wet with paint on a surface, then peel it off; it'll leave a distinctive fractal texture.)
But the vortex wasn't enough. At last, I realized what I needed to do was to create a mandala expressing the images of both destruction and healing which had been surfacing in my dreams. I didn't plan the mandala, but just worked outward from the center, letting the dream images flow into it, both from the recent past and from the present, as I was painting.
Here are a few of the dreams that became part of the painting:
October 5, 2002
I have a new baby girl. She is beautiful. She has a little rosebud mouth. It is time for me to take her home. I do not have a car seat for her. There are some old car seats around and I wonder if I can use one--but they are not the right kind. I guess I will have to hold her on my lap--we'll sit in the back seat. This does not feel completely safe but I trust that all will go well. It's so different now from when Naomi and Leon were born--at that time all the requirements for car seats had not been set.
There is a pen with a pig and piglets in it. This pig is brown and gigantic--as tall as I am. My baby is now a bit older, I think. I wonder if she'd like to see, or sit on and ride, this huge pig. I think she would.
I hold her up to it...
October 16, 2002
I am with a few people in a house that is very high up, with windows looking out onto sky. It is a spacious, open house with large open rooms. Roger and Betty's house? As we look out the windows, we see three birds flying past overhead. On closer look, these are not real birds, they are robot birds.
In a few minutes, they fly past again, only this time a bit lower down. Then again, and lower down. Soon it becomes clear to me that they are 'seeker' robots and they are seeking us. I know with certainty that they will continue to fly lower and lower until they crash through the windows. Are they coming because of Roger (?).
I do not want to be in their direct line when they come back, so I move to another, inner room so that I won't be in direct line of their hit. I tell others to get out of the way too. I think we hear breaking glass. Have the birds already smashed through the windows?
November 9, 2002
My husband Hank and I are in a small boat going along a narrow body of water somewhere in Golden Gate Park--Stow Lake? It is a sunny day. We start to see a dark shape emerge in the water. It is very large. It surfaces a bit and then re-submerges. What in the world could it be? It is alarming and unexpected.
Finally it comes out of the water. It is a huge primate--dark haired. It comes out of the water and onto the bank where it goes into the brush along the bank. We catch glimpses of it from time to time. It seems to be traveling along on land parallel to us on water. We are grateful that it has not decided to confront us.
The Pinned Head
December 10, 2002
A great head rests on a wooden surface like a table or giant cutting board. The head is pinned down to the wood by knife blades, spikes, and strange skewers with a hole near one end.
Only after a while do I realize that these skewers are really huge sewing needles.
The head is not cut off--somehow, it's still attached to its body. Despite all that's been done to it, still alive.
Lord of the Mice
December 12, 2002
I am in a city, traveling. A devotee of Shiva is with me--his hair up in a topknot. He is showing me a temple (possibly to Shiva) squeezed into a narrow space between high buildings.
As he's speaking to me, suddenly four or five mice jump out of his mouth! I am shocked. He keeps mice in his mouth! Ugh!
I guess he has a very special feeling for animals.
(When I wake, I think my guide might have been Pashupati, "Lord of the Animals", an aspect of Shiva)
The Baby Bombers
January 7, 2003
I am on a beach at night with friends. We built a huge fire, but now it's burned low.
Two small children come, towheaded, scruffy, a little boy and girl. They pick up large round rocks, about 10 inches across, and throw them on the fire--trying to smother it and put it out.
I promptly put another log on the fire to encourage it to burn more, and pick up the rocks they have thrown and cast them out of the fire area.
This continues for some time--the children find more large round rocks and bomb the fire, and I cast out their stones.
Sometimes, I pick up the children and carry them away from the fire and set them down and cuddle them. My companions begin to move and sing a little--trying to shift their energy from destruction to something softer.
Little by little the children respond. They stop bombing the fire. They are beginning to move too now, almost dance. Their impetus to destroy the fire is gone.
I imagine the grownups who raised them, taught them. People intent on destroying, putting out light. Now that the children have seen something different, how will they get along with those who taught them?
January 8, 2003
I am asleep in my bed in Altadena. I become aware of a persistent noise. At first I think it is just outside my room, maybe in the hall cupboard where boxes are kept.
I get out of bed and go into the hall. No, the noise isn't there. I go into Mom's room. No, it's outside. I go onto her balcony and see something going on in the front yard. Trees are hiding what it is, but I hear the sound of machines.
I go downstairs and out the front door. I see lights and a truck and several men. They are cutting down all Mom's cactus and loading them into the truck. Cactus rustlers. I shout at them "Stop! I'm calling the police!"
They ignore me and keep on.
I go back into the house, to my brother Tony's room, and ask him "Do you have a gun?"
He says "No, I don't want to be responsible for the use of a gun. But I have an air rifle--you can use it to scare them--it'll hurt if you hit someone, but won't kill."
He loads it and hands it to me. I say "Will I be able to shoot it? Are you sure it will only hurt?"
He says "Yes."
And I go outside with the air rifle lifted, ready to fire.
Lifted by the Animal
February 14, 2003
I am talking to a few people about planning to get an animal--I believe it's a gorilla or chimpanzee--once I get a compound prepared for it. I do have some reservations about this--is it really fair to the animal to keep it here, out of its natural habitat?
Then it seems that I actually have the animal. I can see only its feet, since I am carrying it on my back, piggy-back style. We are in a hospital, and I am carrying it down a corridor.
When we are nearing our destination, I suddenly feel myself being propelled high into the air, lowered, and then raised again--it is the animal who is doing this, with its very long arms. I get views looking way down at the floor. There is a spray or scattering of brown material--like dried shit residue-- that falls on the floor (from the animal I guess).
Fear of Intruders
March 23, 2003
I am at my parentsí house. It is night and I am outdoors enjoying the night. Then at a certain point I decide to go in. My cat Lulu is out with me and I call to her and she is going in with me. The door must be ajar and I know that it is set to lock when I will close it.
As I go up the brick path I hear/see a car pull up in the street and park. I know that whoever it is will be after me yet I am confident I can make it inside in time. I run, Lulu runs with me.
We get inside and I push the front door closed behind me but it does not latch. I try again but it does not latch. Again. Fear comes over me--the area around my ribs grows very hot.
The experience of painting both the frightening and healing images that came through the dreams helped me to integrate the pain and grief I felt about the war, and Stephanie's death.