I began to sincerely make work about vulnerable elements of my own life after a studio visit with a close friend of mine, Zina. At that time, Zina had been making work about her father and his friends’ lives in Iraq when they were in their youth. Utilizing old photographs and narratives from her father, the paintings were vibrant, and intriguing. Most of all, they radiated an endearment that was palpable. Standing in Zina’s studio that evening, we began to naturally talk about our lives and the inherent inspiration we garner from our experiences as women who’ve had to flee our home countries for relative safety in the USA. In the middle of this conversation, as she is wont to do, Zina turned to me and gave me the very heartfelt criticism that I should begin to make work that was primarily about significant moments in my life.
For a very long time, I made work that was inspired a bit by my experiences but was mainly about the lives of people and refugees I interviewed. Although these works were in line with topics I was interested in: memory, trauma, identity, and sensory-to-language translation; they did not speak directly about my own experiences. Instead, offering others a space to speak about their own experiences, acted as a sort of buffer to having to address my own history or translate my experiences. In Zina’s studio that evening in Oakland, her statement acted as a mirror to my thoughts. I had been thinking about the exact same thing, but hesitating from fear of vulnerability. Sometimes, all you need to make a decision, is a loved one holding a mirror up to you. In my case, the conversation with Zina was exactly the push I needed.
Today, I am working on series of works about momentous experiences that shaped my life. For my residency at Box Jelly and Fishcake, the main concept is ‘Motherhood’. The root of this is in the early loss of my mother to an act of violence. The sprout of this is my recent pregnancy. In the first month of my residency at Box Jelly and Fishcake, I had planned already to make work about my mother: my memories of her, the pain of losing her to violence, and letting go of the power it’s held over me. Then I learned I was pregnant, and suddenly it became more imperative to do this work now.
Looking back, what made Zina’s paintings of her father and his childhood friends endearing wasn’t just the colors, or line-work of the paintings. It was also the emotional connection of Zina to the subjects, their memories, and a deep longing for a home loved and lost to time and circumstance. The pieces I am making about my mother will neither recreate her, nor come close to fully defining who she was. By exploring the fragments of her that I still have with me: memories of her singing to me, lifting me to her hips, moving around my grandmother’s yard. Memories of running up to her, burying myself in her skirts, hugging her legs. As well as elusive memories of the moments surrounding her death. I hope to build an exhibit that, as a whole, will give a sense of what she meant to me and the implications of a life lived under the shadow of loss.