TREE OF GUARDIANS
My constant questioning of the state of disappearance led me to its counterbalance—the necessary act of preservation. In my previous works I have explored the issues of the preservation of a woman’s name [Esmi], incursions and limitations on the autonomy she traditionally enjoyed [Suspended Together], and the juxtaposition of her conventional representation in Arab society and the reality of her current professional identity and personal potential [I Am].
In its fullest sense, however, the act of preservation must transcend the identity of the single, identifiable individual, and encompass previous generations of unnamed and sometimes forgotten women that serve as the cultural and social roots for the hopes, dreams and aspirations of today’s women. In other words, today’s women have the power to not only speak for and about their own mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers, but also to reclaim the collective legacy of generations of women that might otherwise be lost to memory.
But even as the exercise of active remembrance and documentation extends vertically through time, the preservation of identity also extends horizontally beyond the individual woman to include the wider society that she calls her own. In periods of social and economic change, men often had to adapt to the shifting mores of the dominant system in order to earn a living and advance within the society. Thus it was women—mothers, grandmothers, aunts and older sisters—who became both the repositories and the transmitters of traditional culture, ethics and ideals, often in an oral fashion. Nursery rhymes, poems, stories, riddles, parables, fables—these became the information packets through which traditional identities, attitudes and values were actively transmitted to subsequent generations, with women acting as their guardians, preservers, and transmitters.
This installation is not a sterile exercise in history, however. Rather, it exists at this moment in time, capturing the views and experiences of a rising generation of young women who, even as they reflect on their own family histories, serve as the next generation of incubators of knowledge, culture and authenticity. As such, the work begins to project these stories, anecdotes and individual identities into the future, and guards against the risk of this irreplaceable and invaluable information being lost, ignored and forgotten. As the German curator and researcher Hans Ulrich Obrist has noted, “The future is built out of fragments of the past.”
Finally, while the installation must of necessity be located in a particular place, the work is also designed to be the physical epicenter of a ripple effect of remembrance, discussion and reflection. Here the visitor to the installation becomes an active part of the display as he or she begins to reflect on his or her own family history, considers the contributions of the women who made up previous generations of the local society, and explores their stories and influences. As a result, the intellectual and emotional impact of the installation spreads as visitors move away; engage others in conversations about the past, present and future; and thus create a ripple effect of active preservation—a further safeguard against the irretrievable loss that comes with forgetfulness and ignorance.
Therefore, this sculptural installation is at one and the same time a marker of the individual women that are named on the leaves and captured in the oral histories, and a celebration of the many generations of unnamed women who served as the protectors and messengers of authenticity. It is a work that also transcends time, drawing from the past, celebrating a current generation of women, and projecting their cultural identities far into the future. And its impact extends beyond its physical location, as the installation initiates both active preservation and exploratory conversations about the role of women as the primary guardians and guarantors of authenticity and values against the ravages of time and forgetfulness.
Produced in 2014 - Medium: Brass leaves, ink, fishwire and art paper with ink drawings and sound recodings of oral histories during sessions. Size: Site specific with 2000 leaves and 400 family tree drawings. Editions: Unique Piece