How do you describe the physical sensation that courses through your body at the exact moment you are triggered by something? That muscle memory igniting like a warning carved into you by your ancestors. Is it best described in a painting? How about a sculpture, or a song? I believe that not all things are best looked at in the daylight. Some things require you sit in the dark for them to reveal themselves to you. Other things will never fully reveal themselves, though we feel their presence. The same is true about art and process.
I have learned that painful experiences affect my sense of power and autonomy. In a moment, it becomes evident that what you have planned is not always going to be what happens. Because of this, I don’t aim for total control in my work. Instead, I hope to achieve a better understanding of liminality – of the untranslatable bits of experiences that we can neither fully contextualize with text, nor vocally, nor visually.
My own history is fraught with traumatic experiences and loss that are integral to my identity. My past includes riots, displacement and a terrorist attack. They have taught me that life can be concurrently terrible, glorious and inspirational. I put this in my work by creating multifaceted series in order to fully explore a topic. I experiment with different media and techniques, not to find an ideal method, but to show the untranslatable elements between experience and object.
My Mimic Series consists of two soft sculptures (Ejije and Ihe Di Ka), a poem (Mimic Swing), and an audio recording of me reading the poem to Broken Social Scene’s Guilty Cubicles. These pieces speak on the loss of a loved one and the unsatisfying cyclical neurosis caused by trying to hold on to them by finding and keeping pieces of their possessions. While exploring the topic, I was working through the recent loss of a family member that left me feeling fragmented and a different version of myself.
Using pieces of old clothes, I wove two soft sculptures that are mirror-images of each other. These organic shaped orbs were implanted with the most precious possession of the family member – her late husband’s teeth. Each tooth was wrapped and sewn into a piece of silk from an old kimono of hers and is not visible from the outside of the orbs. The only allusion to them is a mention in the audio recording of the poem, as well as their inclusion in the material list of the work.
My most recent performance, Santa Cruz Scars, at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History asked participants to tell me about their scars – both visible and invisible. For visible bodily scars, people wrote on letterpressed paper the memory of what happened. After writing their story, I asked them to verbally describe what happened without reading what they had written – forcing them to re-contextualize the experience through spoken word. Next, I painted ink over the scar on the participant’s skin and gently pressed the paper (where they’d written their scar story) over the scar, leaving an ink imprint of the scar unto the paper, as well as an ink stain on their scar – highlighting it for the rest of their day. All the while, touching them and being tender and loving to the wounded part of their skin. The stories were then displayed for others to read.
For internal or invisible scars, participants wrote their scar stories on strips of muslin and brought the strips to me. Without asking about what happened, I sewed the strips of muslin into soft sculptures. I provided the soft sculpture to the participants to interact with for a period of time. Some threw and smashed their sculptures against the table, others just held and squeezed them. They gave the objects back to me and I hung them up for others to see. During a performance, I cut into several of the sculptures and read aloud the stories hidden inside them.
I aim to provoke emotional responses within the viewer; to bring up their own experiences and validate them. I believe that by creating a tension between emergence and submergence, the viewer is forced to search for their own conclusions of what lies beneath their preconceived notions of who they are, and who they can become.