The story of each one of us stretches so long in the past, that even before our conception, we are already passive agents printed with expectations, opinions, assumptions, and hopes. It starts writing itself before we are even born, it's our story and yet it's not. A chapter that we might, in the future, include as part of our identity. The past would be put to the test, by our self-imposed social and cultural filters, defining whether it's worthy or not of being part of our identities. Whether it's apprehension or rejection, we create and configure ourselves from it, in the present. Either way, the origin of that self-discovery and confrontation is always the same: our family..
The past is a puzzle that can only be assembled in community. The different characters involved in such historical unwind of events are the key pieces to reconstruct a story that may not even be complete. Some pieces may be brought to the table willingly, others may have been forgotten, lost, burned, or even buried. Some of the owners of those pieces are no longer present, and in our ignorance and hope, we try to decode their realities. Other pieces are even painted or altered, to hide the truth. Others reconstructed, to make the truth more appealing. And they are the characters not willing to participate in the game. As if they were never there, but the black space of their pieces is still part of that crooked puzzle.
The wonderful work of the Canadian photographer Farihah Aliyah Shah (@rihah) explores that entangled and yet fascinating concept. An anthropological salad of memory, oral expression, reconstruction of memory, identity, and lineage. In her series Looking for Lucille, Farihah creates a warming piece of work where she “explores the strength and validity of memory and oral history as alternative and legitimate forms of research” ; it traces back to her lineage in Victoria Village, Guyana. Documenting the different spaces that her granny once inhabited and the people that knew her. Farihah started piling up the pieces of her own puzzle through her mother, “we spent a lot of time speaking about her childhood and specific memories she had about her mother.”
Farihah´s used different sources to put up a map towards her granny's story and towards herself. She used different family archives, self-produced work, and oral representations to recreate a story that, lacking documentation, is in danger of being washed up by memory. Farihah explores and creates from the necessity and the importance of documentation.
The absence of documentation about my maternal grandmother added to an increasing void I felt and still feel about my own identity.
It's almost poetic how documentation is the basis of science, but it's also an act of resistance towards the fear of oblivion. Our story is never just ours, and whether it may be pleasant or not, having the presence of it it's a privilege, and forgetting it is an actual loss. The human need of discovering our origins is part of the journey towards identity, as Farihah herself expresses “It’s about the act of reclaiming agency of my personal narrative.” Her ongoing series transverses a family timeline, and the legacy of her granny expresses itself so strongly through Farihah´s mother, friends, and people who knew Lucille. And that presence is the one that impregnates the bodywork of Looking for Lucille.
Those parts of our story that we willingly take as our own, the ones we identify with and transform into segments of our identity, those are the pieces that define us, it's where we feel the co-creation of our family lineage in our vital experience. Farihah´s work opens up a bridge between memory and identity, a bridge each one will cross at their own pace and desire. A journey where we may find ourselves with confrontation and absence but also with the silver lining of learning from the past.