Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Writing from the margin: letters of resistance

A Big Adventure, 2009. Acrylic on bemsilk lining, Australian souvenir pins.

Handwritten note from my paternal grandparents, Elsa and Fermin. The photo is of my grandfather. This is one of the few surviving letters that includes my grandfather’s signature. He didn’t write much. He only made it to the equivalent of year 3 in primary school before he began to work.

This is the title of a paper I'll be presenting at the Picture this: postcards and letters beyond text conference at the University of Sussex in a couple of weeks. The paper explores the work of two Latin visual artists, Eugenio Dittborn’s Airmail paintings and Cecilia Vicuña’s ‘circular’ letters. Dittborn’s Airmail paintings specifically engage with the letters ability to cross multiple geographic locations. Vicuña’s literally circular shaped letters were a direct response to a Chilean government mail out following the death of President Allende. The focus of my research are Latin American artists and makers drawing upon their experience of exile, migration and culturally diverse heritage to challenge notions of the centre and periphery. My research also explores my own personal experience of migration through collected family letters exchanged during the first year after migrating to Australia from Uruguay (including the handwritten note and photograph above).

The forms in which these letters are written, delivered and exchanged are explored as strategies of resistance and survival. Through making visual artwork in response to collected correspondence, I am attempting to tease out the politics of the experience of letters across borders. How can the individual and collective narratives, shared knowledge and experiences embedded within these letters impact on our understanding of established and unexpected borders or places of cross-over?

As part of the conference, I will also be exhibiting a work titled A Big Adventure which recalls my experience of migration. The combination of text (in both Spanish and English) and textile features predominantly in my work. The choice of materials also references the tradition of 'making do' and using whatever materials are available to convey a message.