The Family Portraits. Chapter 2. Testimony A-4
in my backyard, Montreal, QC, Canada 2016 (edited 2019)
Published by Taylor & Francis Group on 17/02/2020. Accepted manuscript of a peer-reviewed article. Full text available online: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13528165.2019.1717866. TESTIMONY A-4 – I ALMOST GAVE THEM SWEATERS I am haunted by what I do not want to say. What do I grieve? It grabs me and bullies me, my body jolted. For the last twelve days, my grandmother with her children, my uncle and my father, are outside in my backyard.
From my window, I see them. I go out and sit there with them. I come back inside and wonder, how much longer will they be there-here? I’m surprised by my thoughts and my feelings. One night, I looked for them to see if they were still there and I saw them holding on against the fence. An unexpected swoon from my belly towards my heart took hold of me. At that moment, I did not feel alone. They were here with me. When I first put the image on my backyard fence, all kinds of contradictory things coiled inside my guts. My eyes dropped heavy, fearful, not wanting to see my family in that life-size image. What was it I did not want to see? My daughter came to visit today. I was in bed with a headache, or was it a heartache? The kind of heartache that climbs up and stompson my head. My heart’s survival strategy, this heartache. For how to understand that my father was disappeared, taken away, torn into pieces? I push it away, all away. I battle poorly. My daughter came to visit. I did not want her to see me in grief, but grief is all she sees. My grandmother in my backyard for twelve days,with her children, my uncle and my father feels like too long a visit and yet, I don’t want them to go. I’m terrified. Of what? I have this fear that they will leave at any moment. Has it not been like this forever? Yesterday, it happened. It rained for three days straight. The image gave up, and the moment of their departure arrived. They were torn in half. One part on the floor, the other hanging on. Their faces split but their eyes looking up straight at me. The image ripped cleanly, just like that. Does this wound me again? I know this silent scream. It swirls anxiously through the soft tissue of my body, where my history lives and the deepest pain finds its home. The torn image feels cruel. It’s over now. I’m relieved. Before this moment, I wanted to place flowers attheir feet, but didn’t. I wanted to prepare a special meal and serve it at the table and eat with them,but I didn’t. I wondered if they were cold. One nightI almost gave them sweaters but didn’t. They are onthe ground now, as discarded paper nestling between leaves and mud. Today, I will go outside where the image lies and touch the remains. But first, I must sleep. Perhaps the promise of snow will give this story a gentle rest ... until spring comes.
This durational and partially public performance of open-ended processes had no predetermined completion time and no specified audience.
I placed a life-sized portrait image of my father Iván as a child, with his mother (my grandmother Lucía) and his older brother, my uncle Raúl, that was taken in Venezuela (c.1944), in the backyard fence of my Montreal home.
I decided to leave the image facing towards my window, exposed to the changing conditions and natural elements of an early Quebec autumn. In this setting, I would sit next to them as if I were part of the portrait. Over days of this performative play, as well as noting, photographing and video recording the changes over time, I sensed a poetics of decay and erasure occurring that seemed to claim presence in absence: when their image- portrait was ‘here’, it paradoxically implied a deep sense of their absence. This process enhanced the potency of the image, signifying meaning for me beyond the materiality of the print. A certain liveliness within this portrait became evident by this process of decay. The artistic experiment opposes such disregard towards the disappeared and to the forced erasure of grieving inflicted on the family that remains.
This work was presented at Optica Gallery, in Montreal, QC, for the group exhibition Un dos tres por mí y mis compañeras, curated by Nuria Carton de Grammont, January-March 2020.
Heartfelt thanks to my daughter, Alba Daza, who worked on the editing of the piece The Family Portraits, Chapter 2. Testimony A-4 and gave valuable feedback on the litany/poem ‘I almost gave them sweaters’. Also, special thanks to Stephanie Bolster for our initial wonderful conversations and for her insightful comments about this work. Finally, muchas gracias! to Nuria Carton de Grammont for her steady support and dedicated curatorial work.