The Path to Paradise: Unruly Women

Glass is a cruel and brutal, unforgiving goddess.
—Judith Schaechter

III.
Unruly Women
1995–1999

Judith Schaechter is compelled to relate to the figures in her work, and so most of her images, though not all, feature female figures. From the 1980s to the present, her unruly women have defied cultural norms and expectations. In a subversion of the spiritual function of historical Christian stained glass, Schaechter harnesses the medium’s seductive powers to depict female corporeality. Her martyrs are overtly modern, secular women. Alone, in peril, adrift, her women are captured in the midst of a transformational moment, between pain and pleasure, despair and joy.

Reflecting Schaechter’s fascination for the bold, bad behavior of female rock musicians like Patti Smith and Debbie Harry, the women in her pieces do not fit the ideal standards of beauty, nor do they comport themselves in a becoming manner. They sometimes vomit, writhe, and commit violent crimes and sexual indiscretions. Schaechter’s provocations express her punk rebellion against the status quo, and as feminist gestures they normalize the nuances of female experience and sexuality.

Yet Schaechter’s message is anchored to her medium’s Christian past. She is well versed in the traditions, techniques, and context of stained glass. By the dawn of cathedral stained glass in the thirteenth century, women were generally depicted in one of two ways: as the demure Virgin Mary or the deceitful Eve. Schaechter explodes that toxic history from within.

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