Before I Am
We have all lost someone we loved. And with them, their stories, memories, and voice, too.
I recently lost two of my grandparents back to back, and realized how little of their war stories and stories of survival I actually knew. I live with pain and guilt and regret for not taking the time to aggressively document the final stages of their lives, along with the stories that went with them when they passed. I am a granddaughter of four holocaust survivors, so trauma has been a characteristic of life that I have always grown up alongside. These tragic encounters that my grandparents experienced as children have deeply affected the way in which my life is lived.
This set of photos is my attempt at capturing what little I still can of my family’s story. Over the course of a few years, I have watched my grandfather’s health and mind rapidly deteriorate. His hearing is almost completely gone, and his memory is shot. For this reason, I tried to capture the feeling of loss when someone isn't really gone through photos and by using the audio of his survival story. I also utilized photos that he took and developed himself as an ode to the memories that cannot be remembered, and the future lost stories. My grandma Olga, on the other hand, is a woman whose smile screams resilience. To me, she is the face of hope, strength and survival.
I wanted to convey this strength and trauma in a more physical means, so I created this sculpture as a way to materialize the pain experienced. My sculpture is representative of the backbone of my identity. The physical weight of pain, loss and trauma through memory is recreated here with different materials, each a nod to the individuals who suffered before me in order for me to stand here today. After the war, my Savta (Hebrew for grandmother) collected everything--and I mean everything. Plastic spoons, old newspapers and bills, letters and more were always piled high in her home, and the visual of her extensive hoarding is seared into my brain. My mother, and now I, although not nearly on the same level, have a problem letting go of meaningless papers and other miscellaneous items that I am sure was in part influenced by my Savta. The nails and concrete represent a more institutional understanding of pain and suffering, and are made to feel as if the weight is crushing.
This project was, in a way a healing process for me, and a reminder that history fades along with those who have lived it.