Telling a story is the heart of Elissa Farrow-Savos’ work. Combining polymer with found objects, Farrow-Savos’ sculptures speak to the eye and the soul. Most of her work is feminine in orientation and explores the timeless tales of women’s lives. While her first love was figure drawing and painting, when Farrow-Savos returned to her studio after a pause for childbearing, she no longer felt satisfaction in 2D work. Floundering, Farrow-Savos happened upon polymer and soon discovered that sculpting provided her with a new form of narration.
“Stories she told” is about the important stories women carry. These are the accounts shared with other women, both contemporary and younger. They are told by the advice givers, who present the lore, wisdom and history of one family or every family. This figure’s contemplative gaze and the slight tension of her lips suggest words about to emerge. Supporting her head and torso, a cage-like form on wheels alludes to the constraints of women’s lives that often surround their stories and of their perpetual need to be able to move according to circumstances. Farrow-Savos offers another layer of meaning: “I gave her eight wheels/legs and eight little containers of book fragments as a reference to the African legend of Anansi – seen as a spider, famous for skill and wisdom in speech, a teller of tales.”
Farrow-Savos’ piece, “Mother/ Daughter” portrays two female figures back to back on baby carriage wheels. The subject of mothers and daughters is important to Farrow-Savos, who lost her own mother when young and is now the mother of two daughters herself. Here, the younger woman is wide eyed and looks out with an inquisitive gaze while the older woman’s expression is more wary. Both literally and figuratively, the two female see the world in different ways and yet as Farrow-Savos says, “undoubtedly have each other’s back”. For Farrow-Savos, the baby carriage is a platform for the mother daughter relationship. This symbolic vehicle carries along the eternal progression of mothers having daughters and daughters then becoming mothers. This cycle insists on movement through time and consequently changes of perspective. Of course, all mothers with daughters have experienced this journey looking both ways.
Issues of female degradation and enslavement present Savos in a more political mode. The poignant “A Suitable Girl” addresses the idea of female mutilation as a means of controlling both the woman and all of her options. Farrow-Savos writes, “I wanted to represent the heavy burden that this “chastity belt” of a procedure represents. These girls are not “suitable” for marriage unless they are subjected to a procedure that ensures a lifetime of pain, and a guarantee that they will never enjoy sex, so will never stray from their husband. And yet the girls cannot refuse, or they will be shunned, considered less than a woman their whole lives, with no place for them to fit into society. In the sculpture I hoped to represent the entrapment of this procedure.” While Farrow-Savos had a particular circumstance in mind, without foreknowledge, this dignified, upright female figure could just as well be an interpretation of female bondage through slavery.
A lighter note is struck in “How does she get herself into these messes?”. A tightly seated figure is wrapped in 10 feet of actual zipper. Farrow-Savos says she is the visual translation of the feeling we all have when we find ourselves caught “in an unpleasant situation, usually of our own making, and we want to actually smack our own forehead and exclaim, ‘How did I get myself into this?’.” Perhaps it is the vaguely foolish treatment of the head-wrap and hair that enables us to understand why Farrow-Savos continues, “so exasperating, and yet funny and universal.” Beyond its wry humor, this piece relates to much of Farrow-Savos’ imagery because women often find themselves caught in unhappy situations -sometimes of their own making, but sometimes not.
Throughout Elissa Farrow-Savos’ work one finds other interpretations of female themes. No less universal but more internally focused, Farrow-Savos examines maternity, identity, and women’s dreams often infusing her pieces with hints of humor or twinges of melancholy. The combination of found objects, many of which are domestic in origin and Farrow-Savos’ sensitively sculpted forms furthers the larger concept of women’s relationships to their world and each other.