We often use memory as a gateway to our past, we hold and store memories from our early childhood that help us understand who we are and where we have come from. Oftentimes, memories of the past that are held with negative emotions are usually kept hidden, from ourselves and others. Photographer Alison Dias explores her memories in the series ‘When you walk under the afternoon sun do you talk to your shadow?’ which discusses generational trauma through the lens of domestic abuse and love. Offing editorial assistant Divya Gangwani sat down with Dias to discuss her thought process whilst creating this series, and how her background as an Indian woman has influenced the work.
Your title ‘When you walk underneath the afternoon sun do you talk to your shadow?’, is a question, you are addressing the audience, who is this body of work targeted to? Has it changed at all?
It’s more rhetorical than anything. This body of work was created through a great deal of reflection, and was intended to speak to really anyone who it resonated with. My goal with this work was to encourage others to engage in self-reflection but also come to learn about the silence of domestic abuse. In many cases, people are truly unaware of what goes on behind closed doors. For the entirety of my life, no one knew that I was living under constant physical and emotional abuse because society often views and portrays domestic abuse through physical wounds but situations like this run far deeper than even the abuser can see.
Exploring such a personal topic can have its challenges, especially in the art world. What was it like for you to discuss generational trauma in your family?
It was honestly quite freeing. That’s not to say it wasn’t difficult, making this work came with the cost of hard emotional labor but I think what was hardest for me was protecting my family. I contemplated many times if putting this work out into the world was going to bring chaos into theirs. It’s not as though we had been going around telling all of our friends about our family history. I was also afraid of it affecting my father. To be honest I’m not sure he even knows I’ve made this work to this day and I wouldn’t go out of my way to tell him. Simply because I don’t think he’s a bad person and I don’t think he truly is capable of understanding the work. It’s really easy to resent someone who’s caused you a lot of pain but it takes a lot of work to empathize with them. My father suffered in the same way as a child, and it genuinely hurts me that he may never have a deep understanding of how his actions are rooted in his own relationship with his late father. Don’t get me wrong, I will never forget what he did to my family and specifically to my mother, but within that I also cannot forget all the joy and happiness he brought to me as well.
That being said, I was very careful to centre the work around growth whilst addressing the cyclical nature of violence. I don’t want people to label me as a victim, that’s truly not the purpose of this work.
What was the decision behind creating an accordion-style book? Do you see this piece only in book form, as separate images, or both?
My intention with the accordion-style book is to have it presented opened in a circle, to encourage the viewer to revisit the images and poetry several times and consider the differences in their reaction and relation to the work. My hope is that the viewer will understand that the darkness held by them is not always a detriment to their well-being, and instead can enhance their ability to understand and empathize with themselves and others. Working through trauma isn’t linear and it doesn’t mean that pain can evaporate from one’s life, but rather that when it shows up in their life again, they have learned how to redefine and are better equipped to handle it. Trauma is cyclical and although detrimental, it can be transformed into growth. This work has brought me a great deal of peace and growth. I am able to revisit the work with a new perspective, and it has encouraged me to continue to work through my relationship with violence. My work has been displayed in exhibitions as individual images, however, I’ve more allowed that as I understand how pieces of my work can be paired with others in a space to tell another story. I don’t believe that there is a limit on how I should display this work as its effect on the viewer will vary depending on the space in which it exists.
Having come from such a diverse background, has this work in any way helped you connect to your heritage?
In some ways yes, but not in the most positive light. This project yielded a lot of introspection which included unraveling the ideologies that exist within my culture. Growing up in Hong Kong, I felt very disconnected from India but I still grew up with aspects of the country’s systems and traditions through my parents. There is a definitive issue with gender roles and the acceptance of violence in India primarily within heterosexual marriages. Divorce isn’t seen as an option and women often bare the brute of toxic masculinity in households. It’s important to note that a lot of these systems have been built through European colonialism and acting against them is a true presentation of decolonization. Growing up in a Catholic household, and away from my native country, I wasn’t able to understand how intertwined my own personal family history was with colonization. But during my time here in America, I have been given the language and understanding to begin to unstitch the storylines and view them from a more objective perspective. I think oftentimes, moments like these, regarding domestic abuse can feel so singular. So small and unique. But through my work I have discovered many people from many cultures, including my own, who have shared experiences. And whilst that isn’t a great thing, it has definitely made me feel less alone, and has encouraged me to make this work.
What do you hope for your audience to take away from your work?
I leave the audience with this;
“Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it.”- Carl Jung