When in Louisville this March, I went to see an art exhibit of Goicolea’s work at the Museum Hotel 21C. The piece above is a photo of his work where a relative of the Cuban American artist has been drawn from a negative rendering of the old photo, then posted on a telephone poll that sits inside the gallery.
I’ve been haunted by the piece ever since, and have been trying to understand myself what is so compelling about it.
With an ancestor’s portrait posted as lost on a telephone poll, it seems as though there is something deeply honest about looking, as if for someone lost, to find out who we are, where we’ve come from and what we are made of. We know that the stories we can remember of our own lives have been incredibly impacting, and we know that our parents share similar stories which have shaped who they are as well, and on and on through a timeline of generations ahead of us, a timeline that will precede after us.
Everyone looking for and finding themselves.
Shaped by the stories of who we are and who those who came before us were.
And we claim the stories of heritage we want attached to us. Stories of hard work and family and ingenuity and generosity and imagination.
And we wrestle against the stories we don’t want attached to us. Stories of racism and illness and greed and selfishness and arrogance.
The folks who check in for help to the psychiatric inpatient unit have been teaching me this last month what it means to grasp both sets of stories as we search for who we are and who we can be in the world. We look at our own lives and the lives of those who have come before us, we take a deep and unjudging breath, and we embrace the stories of hard work and racism and family and illness and ingenuity and greed and generosity and selfishness and imagination and arrogance.
In losing hopes of curating our stories to manipulate who we wanted to be, we find ourselves in the wholeness of who we are.
And in so doing, we are held and found accountable by those who have struggled with stories before us.
The picture below is a triptych of Goicolea’s where he has brought together all the family images from generations past and present, and placed them next to each other in one print. Because of the dates of the compiled photographs, a grandmother might be sitting as a child in her own granddaughter’s lap, blurring the lines of space and time while fortifying the lines of influence.