The Girl who had a Tail
Meffan Museum and Gallery
The Girl who had a Tail was the culmination of three years work, the show was a coming of age tale, exploring the transformation from girl to woman, through paintings, drawings, sculpture, installations and embroideries. In response to my personal research on the darker history of oral storytelling, folklore and the fairytale, I wrote a feminist retelling of my favourite childhood tale, Little Red Riding Hood to accompany the show. I cast myself as the heroine who gets an ambiguous revenge of sorts in my short story entitled The Girl who had a Tail. The story was a metaphor for my own experience as a girl growing up in a patriarchal society and then experiencing abusive relationships as a young woman. This body of work is part of my continuing journey to make sense of who I am through storytelling. The show included a full size wire horse head, spine and tail sculpture, a blue embroidered riding cloak, large graphite drawings of twisted and broken horse headed women, a hare skeleton with a human hair crown and a horse skull with a hair bridle. The works played with traditional and self-invented mythologies, heavy with symbol and metaphor. You can read the full fairytale below, just you scroll to the bottom of this page.
Accompanying essay by Janey Muir
In this exhibition, The Girl who had a Tail, Jennifer Robson presents a new body of work. Open, honest and laid bare, she bravely lets the viewer into her own personal world through her art. Robsons work deals with stories, from the universal to the personal. In this exhibition her own personal history creates not only inspiration for her work, but fuels the raw emotion evident in her drawing. Here Robson has reinterpreted the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, titled The Girl who had a Tail, in which she has cast herself as the main character, the heroine Little Blue Riding Hood.
The Girl who had a Tail is a coming of age tale, that plays out Jennifer’s personal experiences from girl to woman. Playing with traditional and self-invented symbolism, objects and animals are cast as metaphors in her work, as people she has known but also as aspects of the self. These characters materialize in the gallery; a towering cornflower blue cloak that leads the viewer into the room of Little Blue Riding Hood; braids of hair that are strung across furniture and etched into paintings; and the skeletons of important symbolic and sacred animals adorned in precious hair jewellery.
Robson describes her practice as “using all [her] skills like an orchestra”. Nothing stands alone. Like the braid that weaves through everything, each part of The Girl who had a Tail is a piece of an unraveling puzzle, each object, drawing, colour, pressure of mark, pose is considered. She pulls these interwoven threads together in this exhibition to make what Robson hopes is ‘A universal story, that speaks to the viewer’s heart’.
The Girl who had a Tail
by Jennifer Robson
There is a girl who lives her life with a burden; she has a tail. You may have seen this girl. You may love her, or envy her, even hate her. Under her feminine tresses (that following tail) she hides her affliction well.
There once was a girl who had a tail
and she cared for it lovingly every day.
Bathing and binding, combing its frays,
braiding and curling sweet-neat little plaits.
Everyone loved her and her clever tail tuft-
how sweet and unusual, that girl with the tail!
She’d curl it around you, coorie your heart,
she’d show off and flick it, this way and that.
Her beautiful tail in her love grew and grew
under her tresses, her sacred hair pew.
Then came a time at a certain ripe age,
down grew from her body soft fur between legs.
She felt so afraid when she found the first threads.
This is what happens to girls when they age.
But quickly they said ‘Girl, hide that away!
For people should never see such display!’
In her sadness, she groomed and bathed the tail in secret, stole moments to swim in her dark silken curls until one day they caught her playing with the tail and they beat and beat her until she gave in. Those other girls – see they didn’t have tails, and soon she began to feel so ashamed. So she tied it in knots, twisted it tight, caked it in mud and hid it away….but still those snaking sneaky tendrils escaped. So finally, with tears, she cut at it, shaved it to the bone then cried into her wretched hands. But it came back longer and curlier and hairier than ever before. So this time in anger, frustration and shame she braided the tail and braided the braids, until, bound and tied with ribbons and lace, she strapped it tight to her spine. And she spoke of it no more, for pretending is easy when done for so long.
The girl who had a tail grew into a young woman and her once fine tail was now a wicked and winding hair corset; its intricate braids had grown in and out and as the years passed the knots and purls serrated her fleshy folds. Her skin enveloped it as it grew over and through her pretty meat so her breasts and her cunt, they no longer spoke.
Then one day, many years later, the girl who had a tail left her haven to visit her Grandmother. To the forest she went, dressed in her mother’s beautiful cornflower blue cloak, treading the same path she did every day. But on this particular day she wandered a little too far (as young ladies in need of lessons do.) Her eyes became wide as she saw what she saw. There in the meadow stood a great silver wolf, all matted fur, tail sighing high. There in the gloom, amidst bluebells and tears, he reared up on hind legs and said:
‘Dear lady, your bosom and curves are bewitching
but what are you hiding beneath your hair corset?’
‘Excuse me dear wolf, do mind who you talk to!
I am trying to breathe and your words are not helpful.’
So she turned on her tail, but a memory irked her
for that beautiful tail had flicked itself at her.
And Silvery Wolf, he saw something in her.
‘Dear lady please stay, you have only just got here.
I will allow you to breathe – let my teeth at that corset.’
And let him she did for she now could not move –
those braids of the corset were tight in her grooves.
She could not remember what the corset was for
but she liked how he talked and the free way he moved.
And as he undid her with his red-felted tongue,
he crooned to her quietly, read her a song.
His paws found her ribbons, unravelled them down
’til he found deep within there the most foetid wound.
He unbound her sad tail, all twisted and pussy,
cut all her bindings and licked clean her sores.
As his sharp pearly teeth sliced through matted hair,
he welcomed her home to his sweet rosy lair.
They lay there together on a sun-dappled floor,
her in her pink skin and him in his fur.
She returned to the village whenever she could.
She’d find him in meadows and remove her blue hood.
He told her to dance. Who was she to refuse?
To her he was king and she was his muse.
So she danced with a smile and gave in to the ‘Please’
and she let him suck soft on her empty girl teat.
He lived by story. She lived by heart.
Yet nothing (she thought) could keep them apart.
He showed her the world through a knowing new eye.
Now up above was a cotton wool sky,
soft on a backdrop of a heavy blue sigh.
He called her his woman; he was her great love.
He pulled on her soul, she opened his heart.
Soon her tail grew; she allowed it to quiver.
Down in the long grass, she groomed his fine fur.
She bathed him and held him, drunk back his tears,
soothed balm in his sores, whispered love in his ears.
They kindled up stories only she and he knew
of horses with humans and swallows with hares.
He gave her a new name, she poured out her words.
They lay curled together, safe, asleep and in love.
She made new braids of feathers and whittled white bone,
of lamb’s wool and hare-skin; her hand was her comb.
She made locks of love and surrounded them both
and, twining, she bound them together in love.
She cried through her fingers, as threads made her bleed.
Blue was her blood, the pencil her seed.
She opened her hands and revered all she made,
but soon her new bindings, her precious blue braids
failed to soothe.
In the beginning, he’d told her she sang like a bell and promised to teach her to sing higher than the birds. But something had changed – while her tail had flourished, his had wilted like a shadowed flower. He was quiet and sorrowed, aggrieved that she had taken his love, eaten from his plate and, in his sight, misled him.
Soon it became harder to come and to go – they would not let her leave them; he punished her for going. Neither with them nor with him could she feel truly home. Still she always returned. Paths melted together, their laced fingers and toes calmed the stormy nights yet their pain and sorrow was too much to bear. He took all she gave him – withheld his love so she began again to bind the tail. The blood of their pain seeped from weeping sores. Their love became a shrivelled hairy mass of broken braids and twisted wet words. Their love left wicked stains tattooed on her sweet-neat skin. Her eyes were empty of tears. All she could do was lie and lie and lie…..to him, to them and to herself.
Yet still she felt his pull. He called to her fibre, body and breast but she could no longer go to him -something lower told her ‘No!’ Instead, she held a lock of his fur – a talisman – and said aloud:
‘I release you lover.
I set you free.
Let me be, let me be, let me be.
You have no power over me. I am SHE.’
Then she burned everything he ever gave, twisted his logic, threw all of his magic in the fire. She blamed her broken soul on his. In terror, she cursed his bloody sky and with his own silver knife cut off his head and got to the sewing. And out of his fur she made a coat with two tails; one was her own- the other was his. Then she chewed on his bones till he was good and dead (for to stand on her own two feet, it must be this way.) She met with the road, limping and soaked; shivering and dirty. She cast her eyes up to the slavering Scottish sky, threw back her head and howled. The heralding wind pulled at her naked torso. She could feel the hairs on her body rise. Bones shifted. She pulled the bloody fur around her….she was safe.
Here then was the crux: her heart was hers alone and so to let it grow, she let him go.