Foto Forum Santa Fe Award
Honorable Mentions 2021
My work addresses themes of race, culture, family, and Legacy and these images are a kind of family album, filled with friends and family, birthdays, vacations, and everyday life. At the same time, these images tell you more than my family story; they’re a window onto the Black American experience. As I document my son I am interested in examining his childhood and the world he navigates. At the same time these images show my own unspoken anxiety and fragility as it pertains to the wellbeing of my son and fatherhood. At times I worry if he will be ok as he goes to school or as he plays outside with friends as children do. These feelings are enhanced due to the realities of growing up black in America. He can't live a carefree childhood as he deserves; there is a weight that comes with his blackness, a weight that he is not ready to bear. It's my job to bear this weight as I am accustomed to the sorrows and responsibility it brings, the weight of injustice, prejudices, and racism that has been interwoven in our society and institutional systems for hundreds of years. I help him through this journey of childhood as I hope one day this weight will be lifted.
This series of work explores the overwhelming task of living and parenting during the pandemic. In thinking about the current climate, especially related to motherhood, I've been inspired by fourteen mountains with the highest elevations in the world, otherwise known as the Eight Thousanders. The Eight Thousanders are located in the Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges in Asia, and their summits are in the death zone, with sitting elevations of 8,000 meters above sea level. The mountains reach heights requiring supplemental oxygen for human exploration, and the death zone is the point where the pressure of oxygen is insufficient to sustain human life for an extended time span. Being the parent of two young children is challenging even in the best of times, but with covid-19, the difficulty of this role is exacerbated. What is so unique in this time is that it is trying on everyone, just in different ways. There are times in parenting young children when you feel like you need to come up for air or can’t breathe. Using found photographs depicting these fourteen mountains, I collage over the mountain images using colored lighting gels, producing works that amplify environmental impossibility, a metaphor of the physical and psychological weight of life under quarantine.
I showcase how my art practices has the potential for both meditative and cathartic recovery through the way of metaphorical expression. At the core of my art, I analyze the dominant ideologies and limitations of language, self-identity, culture, and shared human experiences. I use different mediums to reflect a range of subjective possibilities. Recent projects include “Don’t Tell Your Mom”, my personal traumatic experience of childhood sexual abuse told through a series of personal perspective photography and different alternative photographic processes.
Don’t Tell Your Mom. It relays the story about my trauma of childhood sexual abuse from a personal perspective. It finds its origins in my childhood memories, which were attempted to be covered up by the person who physically abused me. The words “don’t tell your mom” became the symbol for this experience of trying to erase my trauma. I grew up in a traditional Chinese family where there is a lack of sex education. In effect, there was a lack of awareness about self-protection for children, and we felt ashamed to talk about the word “sex” in public. I kept my secret of sexual abuse for 18 years until I gained healing and peace in making photos, then this body of work was born.
I used my body and different objects with symbolic significance through multiple art forms: the lumen print process, staged photographs, and sculpture installation as metaphors to euphemistically express my inner struggle, hopelessness, fear, and experience. This complicated process also created an experimental inner dialogue about traumatic memories of physical sexual abuse, and the potential of healing through photography as a visual language.
My Tio’s name is Jose Guadalupe Amigon Guzman.
He passed away May 2, 2017.
He was 43.
It was in the early night when I received a phone call from Mexico letting me know about what had just happened.
The last time I ever saw him was late February that same year.
I asked him to take care and that I would see him again soon.
Though often said as a formality to others, I meant it when I said it to him since we exchanged very little words whenever I would visit; it was through a comforting silence and songs on the radio how we shared our days.
Money would not allow me to be able to travel to Mexico and attend his burial.
I had to wait until next year.
During the long pause I asked his brother, mi Tio Guillo, to set aside the little he owned.
His bed and few clothes were burned and returned to his red Earth,
His rifle was dismantled and put away for safekeeping.
His room was painted.
His cross was left hanging overlooking a now empty room.
The rest was put in plastic bags waiting for me.
These are some of his belongings.
The passing of mi Tio Jose showed me the urgency of what it means to preserve stories and memories of a past that leads to me, to now. My mother and her brothers’ impoverished upbringing in rural Mexico did not allow for much to be saved; I have never seen a photograph of my grandfather, their father, though I am often told I look like him. It is through their voices and memories that I am slowly attempting to bridge an intangible past with a present attempting to preserve that which is quickly fleeting.
This is what mi Tio Jose left for me.