I am, in all my genres, an artist of juxtaposition, not only tracing connections between seemingly separate parts, but binding fragments into whole things: stories, garments, world vies, collages. I began making collages as a young immigrant in Chicago. At thirteen, which I've always considered sufficient culture shock all by itself, I moved from a coffee farm on the top of a mountain in Western Puerto Rico, an hour's drive from the nearest small town, to the university community of Hyde Park, on the South Side of Chicago. I lost the natural world that was my intimate joy and context, the close-knit circle of our family unraveled as my mother took on graduate school and activism, all the social rules were alien and I didn't know how to make sense of most of what went on around me. I took to journal writing and collages trying to map my path, visually and in words, to create coherent images made of the bits and pieces I wanted. I invented supernatural protectors-- genies and goddesses and mythical beasts made out of pieces of National Geographic and Ladies Home Journal. I remember I created an entire harp whose scales I cut one by one out of Breck hair color commercials. Collage helped me put myself back together, as the collage style of writing, small vignettes arranged in a pattern, best allows me to talk about the complexity of the world.
I love lining up images whose content is wildly different, but whose lines can be made to flow together--the edge of a riverbank and the gesture of a hand, a bird's wing and a mass of cloud, strands of hair and an aerial shot of plowed fields. I love using tiny bits of paper, so the content of a photo becomes pure pattern and color. In fact, I made my mother a miniature quilt, using tiny snippets placed with tweezers into a traditional grid of triangles. Collage is akin to magical spells, raw ingredients bound together into something potent and new.
These days I make collages in large spiral bound books with black pages, exploring the places where words can't take me. I use collage to create personal talismans, to speak unspeakables, to give the wordless body voice. Since my stroke in 2007, I have often found visual art easier than writing. I compose my essays in color, tell stories in layered imagery, sometimes printed on fabric and embelished with beads, sometimes composed in Photoshop, but scissors and glue stick still takes me into that meditative dream space faster than anything else.
Obviously I'll have to make storage space for my National Geographic stash in my tiny home, because the journey I'm undertaking will be full dream maps, roads marked with tree branches and ancient bits of pottery, the necks of waterbirds, altered cityscapes and the flanks of whales. Or, as above, a stormy Miami night, ancient gold, a stag and the tattooed arm of a woman of power, buried a thousand years ago in the Andes. I call it "Brujeria #1."
Aurora Levins Morales is a disabled and chronically ill, community supported writer, historian, artist and activist. It takes a village to keep her blogs coming. To become part of the village it takes, donate here.
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