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Mirrors of Memory

by Petra Kubisova about a year ago in grief

1 Loss/Mourning/Forgetting

This is a story.

This story is of the author of this paper.

The contradiction is that this is a story that seeks to find the start and the end. A never-ending story, in an ongoing process, with various points inside that have a beginning and an end. The end of each of those ruptures in the story has a material manifestation of a variety of forms and shapes. I can only process my story through the processing of remembering and forgetting.

This part of the story will take a closer look into the mechanisms of loss and mourning. How fragments and layers arise and what ethical understanding we can deduce in relation to forgetting.

In the last part of this chapter we will touch upon moral forgetting and photography. This will lead us into another discussion, in chapter 2, regarding what information photography and memory can carry, hold or provide.

In August 2012 I was rummaging around in the drawers of my mother’s living room in Slovakia. I cannot recall what I was looking for. In the drawer where the things that have no specific place end up, I found a clear, small plastic bag. In it there were a handful of photos. It occurred to me that we never had a family album and that this unkempt plastic bag contained the very few images my family has accumulated after so many years. Up until I left home when I was 22 we didn't even have any framed photographs of us or any family members. The first time I saw a framed photograph in our house, I found it sitting on top of this cabinet of drawers. It was a photo of my Aunty who had just recently passed away. Next to this frame there was a smaller frame of my grandmother who also passed away a few months before my Aunty. I hadn't been home for an entire year. My first experience of photos in this domestic sphere was as the result of death in the family.

The faces in the clear pouch seemed so distant that I barely recognized who was in the photos and when and where they were taken. Yet, this little pouch was my only reference to the visual landscape of my childhood. There was one particular image that captivated me. A black and white photograph, in a badly kept condition, that depicted a young beautiful woman in her twenties with a little girl standing by her side. The woman looks into the distance, pensively, as if she is not entirely present. The little girl’s piercing eyes look straight at me. They are outdoors in nature, maybe on a Sunday walk. Who took that picture? Who else was there with them? In my mind I create a myriad of stories but none of these stories explain why this image is significant to me. How does this image evoke a sense of familiarity of something that I do not actually remember? And this image provokes so many questions about the time of ‘then’ when what I remember experiencing in the ‘now’ seems so different. Seeing my mother and sister in that photo became an event in itself. It sparked an investigation: what was their relationship like? Were they close? What was my relationship with my mother like? Why don’t I remember it?

The memory of mother brushing my hair, tightening it with love, giving it a desired shape; the shape a well-brought-up girl would wear. Dramatically braided hair, long hair, sad hair—beautifully kept. All the family drama was braided into my hair through my mother’s hands. I would carry her sadness and weep into my slightly wavy hair. I would wear my hair long for years and years, almost as a form of respect. That’s what my mother taught me and that is all I knew. My hair was always strong with a mesmerizing smell of … naivety. She prided herself over my hair. On special occasions she would let it down and flaunt the beauty of her beloved child.

When she was young she cut her hair off. It was a rudimentary act of rebellion towards her family. Her hair was never braided with love, only pain.

Her hair has grown since.

Petra Kubisova
Petra Kubisova
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