July 23, 2014 05:19 UTC

American Mosaic

New Music from Beyonce, and an Exhibit on 'Perfect Girls'

Visitors looking at Judy Byron's "Perfect Girls" exhibit
Visitors looking at Judy Byron's "Perfect Girls" exhibit

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DOUG JOHNSON: Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.

(MUSIC)

I'm Doug Johnson. This week on our show, we have new music from Beyonce.

And, we tell you about the history of a wedding tradition that is popular in the United States.

But, first, we learn about the work of an artist here in Washington, DC.

(MUSIC)

DOUG JOHNSON: Judy Byron makes art in the Mount Pleasant area of Washington, DC. This summer she opened a new exhibit called “Perfect Girls.” It is her third show to examine personal identity. Mario Ritter has more.

MARIO RITTER: Judy Byron wondered if life was better now for young women than half a century ago. She thought about the many educational and career choices available today. She worried that all those opportunities came with more pressure to be perfect, and to never make a mistake.

Judy Byron decided to compare the lives of girls now with her life in the nineteen fifties and sixties. She planned a website and an exhibit in her studio. She invited women to place their pictures on her website or mail them to her.

She hopes women from all over the world will place their pictures on the website and write a ten word explanation that begins, “When I was perfect…” She plans to include the comments and the pictures in a book.

As Judy Byron planned her exhibit, she asked a young girl to record her thoughts. Her young friend Naomi kept recording equipment by her bed. Each night before she went to sleep, Naomi described her life and her feelings. The recorded part of the “Perfect Girls” exhibit begins with the voice of that seventeen year old girl.

YOUNG GIRL: “I really don’t know what I want to do, but I feel like as long as I’m happy doing it, I’ll have been pretty successful. And, I hope that all of my friends are able to say the same thing.”

Four images of Naomi at different ages
Four images of Naomi at different ages

MARIO RITTER: Judy Byron made four life size pictures of her friend Naomi.

A visitor to the “Perfect Girls” exhibit finds an art space just inside the door of the artist’s house. Four forms seem to float across the room. These figures represent Naomi as she grows from age five to age sixteen. She seems sure of herself. One figure shows her dancing as a happy five-year old. Her body shows strength and energy at every age.

On one wall is a picture of the artist when she was sixteen. The girl in this picture has very different body language. The artist as a young girl sits quietly. Her clothing restricts her movements. Judy Byron says that when she was a girl, she was expected to clean house, complete high school, work as an assistant and marry the supervisor.

When all the pictures were complete, the artist invited groups of people to see them and to listen to Naomi’s recorded thoughts.

JUDY BYRON: “One of the ingredients of my work is bringing people together on a common ground and in a place and then it’s like the idea that art can be around beauty and meaning.”

Judy Byron sits next to the painting of herself as a young girl
Judy Byron sits next to the painting of herself as a young girl

MARIO RITTER: One discussion included only young girls. One was only for older women. One was for men. And one included both men and women. Visitors to the exhibit hear the voices from those recorded discussions as they study the pictures.

Judy Byron asked other women her age to tell their memories of growing up fifty years ago. Here is part of that discussion.

OLDER WOMAN: “I was married the week after I got out of college and when my children they would say to me well how come so and so went to law school, and she was your age? And I would say, ‘She was a failure. I was a success.’ Because success in 1959 was to go to college, graduate from college and get married.”

MARIO RITTER: The artist says her exhibit is not only for women. She says men are also influenced by the cultural idea of the perfect girl.

The artist has written that she wants people to consider what it means to be a perfect girl.  She also wants them to question the idea of perfection and to redefine that perfect girl.

JUDY BYRON: “It’s really the feeling that we are all in this together but being in it together requires us to be able to be explorers and to be able to be self reflective and to be able to be compassionate and try to maybe learn a little more about ourselves and each other.”

MARIO RITTER: The “Perfect Girls” exhibit will close later this year. Judy Byron plans to hold a closing party. The event will raise money for a group that works with young girls. It is the artist’s way of keeping art and ideas working for her community.

Wedding Traditions

(MUSIC)

DOUG JOHNSON: Our question this week is about a popular wedding tradition. Huang Sumeng in China asks why brides need something old, new, borrowed and blue.

This question is linked to a British poem with guidance for what a woman should wear on her wedding day to have good luck. The poem goes like this: “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a sixpence in her shoe.”

Like many old traditions, it is not easy to say exactly where this saying comes from. The Oxford Dictionary of Superstitions says the poem dates back to the nineteenth century. But the belief in the good luck of wearing blue is much older. Since ancient times, blue was thought to represent loyalty and purity in some cultures.

Wedding websites offer different explanations for the meaning behind this poem. They suggest that wearing something old represents the bride’s link to her family and the past. Many women may choose to wear a piece of jewelry that belonged to a mother or grandmother.

Wearing something new is said to bring good luck and success. For many brides, their wedding dress is the new object they wear.

Wearing something borrowed is said to serve as a reminder that the bride can depend on the support of her family and friends. So she might borrow a piece of clothing or jewelry from a friend or family member.

There are many choices for what to wear that is blue. We asked several married women what their “blue” item was for their wedding. One woman said she wore light blue shoes. Another said she wore a blue garter around her leg. One wedding planning website suggested that a modern bride could paint her toenails blue or get a blue tattoo.

The Oxford Dictionary of Superstitions says a bride would wear “a silver sixpence in her shoe” to have wealth. But it says the silver could also protect the bride from evil coming from her former boyfriends. However, putting a silver sixpence inside a shoe is generally not a tradition followed by brides in the United States.

Beyonce

(MUSIC)

DOUG JOHNSON: Beyonce Knowles recently released her fourth album as a single performer. Many critics say the album “4” shows a new side of Beyonce. She herself has said that making this album was not about making music for a record company. It was about making the songs she wanted to create. Shirley Griffith tells us more.

(MUSIC)

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: That was the song “End of Time” from Beyonce’s new album, “4.” Most critics have praised the album and its music. One reporter said that, in the past, Beyonce recorded songs that other singers could have also made their own. But the reporter said that no one but Beyonce could have recorded the songs on “4”.

Beyonce performing in New York earlier this month
Beyonce performing in New York earlier this month

The twenty-nine year old star says she made this record after taking a year off from her performing. She says she wanted to live her life. She wanted to take this time to go to the ballet, learn to cook and sleep in her own bed, not a hotel. While Beyonce was enjoying this time away from work, she began to think about ideas for a new album. She said the record became a labor of love. And, she says “4” is bolder than her past music because she is less concerned about failing.

Here is the song “1 + 1.”

(MUSIC)

We leave you with a song that is made for dancing. “Run the World (Girls)” is an energetic celebration of the power of women.

(MUSIC)

DOUG JOHNSON: I’m Doug Johnson. Our program was written by Onka Dekker and Dana Demange, who was also our producer. If you have a question about American life, write to mosaic@voanews.com.

Join us again next week for music and more on AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.

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