2 Kings 4:8–37

Making Room for Care and Creativity

Commentaries by Xiao Situ

Works of art by Charlie Watts, Gisèle Freund, Tricia Hersey and Unknown artist

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Unknown artist

View of Emily Dickinson's bedroom at the Dickinson Homestead, Amherst, Massachusetts, 2010s, Photograph, Emily Dickenson Museum, Amherst, Massachusetts; Courtesy Emily Dickenson Museum

A Room of One’s Own

Commentary by Xiao Situ

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Read by Ben Quash

The nineteenth-century American poet Emily Dickinson is one of the most famously reclusive figures in literary history. After the age of 30, she rarely stepped beyond her family’s house and grounds in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Focused in close range on Dickinson’s second-floor bedroom, this photograph portrays the poet’s interior life as hermetic and claustrophobic. The curtains are pulled to shade the room from both daylight and views. Framed by thick mahogany scrolls, the narrow bed appears stiff and uncomfortable to sleep upon.

Yet there are also details that hint at the abundantly creative and vibrant soul that inhabited this room. The sheer curtains part to allow slivers of the outside world to filter in. The paisley fabric folded atop the bed is a type of shawl that was fashionable in the mid-1800s, suggesting Dickinson’s engagement in some of the cultural trends of her time (Wardrop 2009: 39–40). The picnic basket on the chest refers to Dickinson’s playful habit of using a rope to lower a basket of cakes and cookies out of her window to the children playing on the lawns below (Jenkins 1930: 40). The oil lamp allowed the poet to write deep into the night.

Nearly 2,000 Dickinson poems survive. When the poet’s sister discovered the poems after Dickinson’s death, the pieces of paper seemed to spill out of the dresser drawer. Perhaps it was precisely the solitude that Dickinson experienced in this room, with these particular furnishings, that enabled her to be so poetically prolific.

The woman of Shunem wisely intuited that a simple room furnished with a bed or couch, a chair, a table, and a lamp was exactly what Elisha needed to most effectively do the holy work of God. The miracles that Elisha would go on to perform—including the resurrection of the woman’s own dead son on the very bed she provided for him—came out of the peace and privacy he garnered from the moments he spent in this chamber.



Jenkins, MacGregor. 1930. Emily Dickinson: Friend and Neighbor (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company)

Wardrop, Daneen. 2009. Emily Dickinson and the Labor of Clothing (Hanover and London: University Press of New England)

Gisèle Freund

Frida Kahlo, wife of Rivera, a painter herself (Frida Kahlo in her bed), 1952, Gelatin-silver print, 20 x 19.3 cm, Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Given by John and Judith Hillelson, E.85-2003, © IMEC, Fonds MCC, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Gisèle Freund / Art Resource, NY

Creative Convalescence

Commentary by Xiao Situ

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Read by Ben Quash

The woman of Shunem could not have known that the bed or couch that she placed in the room she built for Elisha would one day also be the location of the prophet’s restoration of her dead son to life. This simple piece of furniture, originally intended for rest became a site for the prophet’s holy work.

The Mexican artist Frida Kahlo spent a lot of time in bed. She contracted polio at the age of six, which led her legs to develop unevenly. A tram accident at the age of 18 caused major injuries to her spine. As a result, Kahlo experienced great physical pain and discomfort on a nearly daily basis, and underwent over 30 operations during her lifetime. Her body required frequent medical attention and the supportive aid of orthopaedic corsets, prosthetics, and devices (Wilcox & Henestrosa 2018: 13, 30, 78). Consequently, much of Kahlo’s life involved convalescence in bed.

Yet the artist’s bed was also her stage and studio—a site for exercising her boundless creativity and imagination. Kahlo had an easel attached to her bed, allowing her to paint while lying down. She also had a full-length mirror fixed to the bed’s canopy so that she could see herself when she painted the numerous self-portraits for which she is now most famous.

Kahlo’s artistic repertoire went beyond canvas. She painted on her plaster corsets; fixed her hair into elaborate coiffures; wore elaborate jewellery and garments; and applied makeup and nail polish to accentuate her features (Wilcox & Henestrosa 2018: 121–26).

Gisèle Freund’s photograph shows Kahlo fully dressed, with rings on her fingers and enamel on her nails. On the table beside Kahlo’s bed are towers of books and baskets filled with cosmetics and other personal effects. There is even a miniature toy bed in which several dolls are tucked beneath a crocheted blanket. 

Like the bed made for Elisha the prophet, this bed was not only a piece of furniture included for the purposes of rest and recovery, but also a place of immense life-giving creativity and self-expression.



Wilcox, Claire and Circe Henestrosa (eds). 2018. Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up (London: V&A Publishing)

Charlie Watts and Tricia Hersey

Resting with the Ancestors, 2017, Archival Digital Print Photograph, 76.2 x 101.6 cm, Collection of the artist, Atlanta Georgia; Edition 1 of 10, © Charlie Watts and Tricia Hersey. Photo: Courtesy of the artists

Rest as Resistance

Commentary by Xiao Situ

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Read by Ben Quash

In a pale yellow gown, performance artist Tricia Hersey lies asleep at the centre of Charlie Watts’s photograph. Numerous rectangles frame Hersey’s reclining body: the wooden bench, the beams of a red iron scaffold, the bricks and windows of an industrial niche. In the midst of all these linear forms, the folds and textures of Hersey’s garments create a contrasting set of effects: lightness, softness, and fluidity—a sanctified realm whose dreamy mood Hersey establishes through her act of sleeping. The white tulle that cushions her head unfurls outward, making her appear like a winged angel.

Hersey is founder of the Nap Ministry, an organization that advocates rest as a form of resistance against contemporary grind culture. According to Hersey, the oppressive mechanisms of capitalism have cultivated a valorization of overwork that has led to sleep deprivation and chronic exhaustion, particularly among Black Americans and other communities of colour that have been disproportionately harmed and exploited by systemic racism in many of society’s institutional structures.

As the ‘Nap Bishop’, Hersey curates installations and collective napping experiences that guide participants in reclaiming the healing, creative, and liberating powers of rest. Hersey views these acts of communal resting as a form of reparation. The rows of cotton plants in Watts’s photograph allude to the inextricable link between American slavery, the global cotton industry, and the degradation of the Black body within capitalism’s economic logic of labour in the nineteenth century. By sleeping beside the cotton plants, Hersey spiritually connects with her Black ancestors and transforms generations of enforced labour, bodily trauma, and lack of sleep into deep communal rest.

Like the woman of Shunem, who built and furnished a room for Elisha so that he could rest whenever he passed her house on his pilgrimages, Hersey choreographs spaces and opportunities for others to rest as they pursue the spiritual work of reparative social justice. Hersey is not only like the woman of Shunem in her hospitality, however; she is also like Elisha in making real her prophetic vision. Rows of cotton plants stretch from Hersey’s body towards the viewers’ space, as though extending an invitation to join her movement of rest as resistance and reparation.

Lying beneath the beams of the iron scaffold, Hersey recalls the prophet sleeping in his small chamber, caring for his soul and body even as he sets out to do the work of God. 

Unknown artist :

View of Emily Dickinson's bedroom at the Dickinson Homestead, Amherst, Massachusetts, 2010s , Photograph

Gisèle Freund :

Frida Kahlo, wife of Rivera, a painter herself (Frida Kahlo in her bed), 1952 , Gelatin-silver print

Charlie Watts and Tricia Hersey :

Resting with the Ancestors, 2017 , Archival Digital Print Photograph

Where the Soul Rests Creativity Springs Up

Comparative commentary by Xiao Situ

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Read by Ben Quash

The woman of Shunem’s hospitality towards the prophet Elisha returned to her fourfold. First, in repayment for the thought and effort she put into building and furnishing a private room for this holy man of God, Elisha prophesied that she would bear a child, something she had longed for but could not have due to her husband’s old age. Second, when this child—a son—died from sudden illness some years later, Elisha restored the boy to life on the very bed the woman had included in the prophet’s room. Third, Elisha shared with the woman his omen that a famine would come to the land, advising her to move with her household to live in the territory of the Philistines for seven years (2 Kings 8:1–6). And finally, when the woman and her household returned to Shunem after the seven years, her association with Elisha led the king to have her house and fields restored to her. She had built a ‘house’ for Elisha, and in return the prophet ensured the continuity of her ‘house’—both her literal house as well as her genealogical line.

The unnamed woman of Shunem was gifted in the art of care as creativity. It took initiative and imagination for her to come up with the idea of building and furnishing a room for Elisha. She anticipated that a space for solitude and rest would help the prophet accomplish more effectively his vocation as a servant of God. In turn, Elisha’s miraculous revival of the woman’s dead son was also an act of ‘inspiration’, for through the exchange of inward and outward breaths he brought the boy back to life. The boy sneezed his way back to the realm of the living in response to Elisha’s mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. By making a designated space for the prophet’s soul to rest, the woman nurtured Elisha’s future acts of life-giving creativity. Hospitality was the woman’s form of creative expression, as the carrying out of holy works was Elisha’s.

For the women either featured or evoked in these three photographs—Emily Dickinson, Frida Kahlo, and Tricia Hersey—places of rest were synonymous with places of the greatest creative activity. For Dickinson and Kahlo, retreating to the solitude of one’s room or answering to the body’s need for convalescence were not antithetical to being prolific artists. In fact, these conditions amplified the magnitude and originality of their work and self-expression. For Hersey, resting is not only a form of creative self-expression, but also a format by which ancestral connection, communal care, and social justice through collective engagement can be shared and thus exponentially generated.

The common ethos that undergirds all four women’s investment in places of rest—whether they are rooms or beds or other sites where the soul can lie down and be vulnerable—is their faith that an abundance of creative work and activity would spring forth from them. Dickinson, Kahlo, Hersey, and the woman of Shunem do not operate according to a mentality of scarcity, fearful that creating a space for solitude, devoting oneself to interiority, or allowing one’s body to convalesce means a lessening of one’s gifts or a limitation of productivity. Instead, they approach the soul’s need for care and recuperation as a fundamental basis for bringing into being a kind of creativity that is plentiful and boundless, perhaps emulating God’s first act of creation.

Next exhibition: 2 Kings 5

2 Kings 4:8–37

Revised Standard Version

8 One day Eliʹsha went on to Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to eat some food. So whenever he passed that way, he would turn in there to eat food. 9And she said to her husband, “Behold now, I perceive that this is a holy man of God, who is continually passing our way. 10Let us make a small roof chamber with walls, and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that whenever he comes to us, he can go in there.”

11 One day he came there, and he turned into the chamber and rested there. 12And he said to Gehaʹzi his servant, “Call this Shuʹnammite.” When he had called her, she stood before him. 13And he said to him, “Say now to her, See, you have taken all this trouble for us; what is to be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?” She answered, “I dwell among my own people.” 14And he said, “What then is to be done for her?” Gehaʹzi answered, “Well, she has no son, and her husband is old.” 15He said, “Call her.” And when he had called her, she stood in the doorway. 16And he said, “At this season, when the time comes round, you shall embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, O man of God; do not lie to your maidservant.” 17But the woman conceived, and she bore a son about that time the following spring, as Eliʹsha had said to her.

18 When the child had grown, he went out one day to his father among the reapers. 19And he said to his father, “Oh, my head, my head!” The father said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” 20And when he had lifted him, and brought him to his mother, the child sat on her lap till noon, and then he died. 21And she went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and shut the door upon him, and went out. 22Then she called to her husband, and said, “Send me one of the servants and one of the asses, that I may quickly go to the man of God, and come back again.” 23And he said, “Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor sabbath.” She said, “It will be well.” 24Then she saddled the ass, and she said to her servant, “Urge the beast on; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you.” 25So she set out, and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel.

When the man of God saw her coming, he said to Gehaʹzi his servant, “Look, yonder is the Shuʹnammite; 26run at once to meet her, and say to her, Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child?” And she answered, “It is well.” 27And when she came to the mountain to the man of God, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehaʹzi came to thrust her away. But the man of God said, “Let her alone, for she is in bitter distress; and the Lord has hidden it from me, and has not told me.” 28Then she said, “Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, Do not deceive me?” 29He said to Gehaʹzi, “Gird up your loins, and take my staff in your hand, and go. If you meet any one, do not salute him; and if any one salutes you, do not reply; and lay my staff upon the face of the child.” 30Then the mother of the child said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So he arose and followed her. 31Gehaʹzi went on ahead and laid the staff upon the face of the child, but there was no sound or sign of life. Therefore he returned to meet him, and told him, “The child has not awaked.”

32 When Eliʹsha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. 33So he went in and shut the door upon the two of them, and prayed to the Lord. 34Then he went up and lay upon the child, putting his mouth upon his mouth, his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands; and as he stretched himself upon him, the flesh of the child became warm. 35Then he got up again, and walked once to and fro in the house, and went up, and stretched himself upon him; the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. 36Then he summoned Gehaʹzi and said, “Call this Shuʹnammite.” So he called her. And when she came to him, he said, “Take up your son.” 37She came and fell at his feet, bowing to the ground; then she took up her son and went out.