The biological imperative is a force that all organisms abide. From a single-celled organism to the largest plant, animal, or virus, all have one purpose; to procreate.
As an artist, a woman, and a mother, I have tracked the course of this imperative as it has played out in every stage of my life. From my birth mother’s surrender, my importation, my American and religious education, my education as an Asian woman in American society, my marriage to a white man, the birth of my sons and the subsequent issue of raising them in the American south. The seed of procreation remains constant.
The procreation of religion, social ideas, and political structures were all well-aligned like a cattle shoot for my life. A western colonial war and subsequent military industrialization facilitated the circumstances of my birth mother’s choices, or lack thereof. The Christian missionary machine fostered me and ferried me into the arms of another seemingly Christian home in a white suburban society. Some people search for purpose or are told there is a plan for their life. The plan for my life was clear in the beginning; I was to be a descendant of my adopted mother’s dreams, her culture, and her version of the great white-American kingdom of God. It sounds uncouth to say it that way, the sarcasm tinges too bitter, but how else will you taste all the flavors of the American pie? It is a very romantic hook to say, God has a purpose for you, and He does. You can follow him, if you want. He does have a plan for you but let us be clear it is his plan.
My earliest memories, perhaps my Korean ones spoken in my head with a language I no longer recognize told me my “adoption” was a mistake. But the plan was in motion, and I was a child on the wave of history much larger than myself; and so I was offered to the God. In the Roman canon, the one I was raised in, women are likened to flowers, nature’s reproductive organ. At times, she is revered and worshiped like Aphrodite, but more often among the mortals she is desired, conquered, raped, scorned, metamorphosed, and then at times used in death as Medusa was. There may be construed some sense of justice. Medusa’s head did prevent the death of another woman, the princess (i.e. a woman) was saved. But upon closer examination the saving of a princess through the death and dismemberment of another is a less discussed narrative in polite society. In all honesty, Perseus could have asked Medusa if she would kill the monster herself, but he was given poor advice from the three cursed witches. Too many tropes to unpack there. Let us simply say when one inserts a male protagonist, things often don’t logically or happily unfold for women who are not princesses. Fiction and myth, as lovely as they are, offer us poetry so we mortals can bear all in life that is not.
In the Korean cosmology women are also identified with flowers. There is a tradition of paper flowers, Jihwa created for rituals. The “sinmyeongkkot (spirit flower) or muhwa (shamanic flower), are considered sacred,” and used as ornamental offerings. There are large imaginary flowers believed to frighten off ghosts and other ornamental flowers created to invite one’s ancestors. As a universal symbol of femininity, desire, and reproduction I draw flowers on the golden silhouettes of my adoptees. The flowers inspired by the desires of their adoptee mothers, ornament the shadows of their “adopted” daughters. Are they idols, reliquary figures, fertility offerings or just golden dreams, dreams of gold?
For five years, I was infertile, and my work reflected the counting of days, red and white. I also created drawings of large ornaments. I imagined my reproductive organs had become just that, useless ornamental designs. After miscarrying, my husband and I did two things. We took a trip to his hometown in Buffalo, NY, and on a lark, we crossed the border to Ontario and visited the Temple of the Ten Thousand Buddhas Sarira Stupa. In the temple, I stood in front of the golden buddha and said one prayer. After our trip, we both got tattoos. I chose the flower of White Tara—the goddess of consolation—and he chose a rendering of an octopus by E. Haeckel. Soon after, without hormones or interventions and perhaps kickstarted by my previous miscarriage, my body opened like a flower and we conceived our first son Maxim; my truth.
Sinmyeongkkot—my spirit flowers, I have named each of these children as I know they have become, or as I have read in their expressions and their postures. Each one is not just a single flower, but rather a garden of Eden.
A.D. Herzel is an Asian-American artist and writer who has shared her work nationally and internationally. You may learn more about her and her work by following her on social media and visiting her website.