It has taken a disaster to teach me how to wear a beret like my grandfather. It sits on top of my shaven head and feels suddenly right, after 4 years of thinking it was too small. A child’s beret! I thought. That was before we crossed a red line and I shaved my head too close, all on the same day.
You will see my joy and my rage. You will also see my freedom. You have even seen my autism as it is. Dynamic, rhythmic, capable of control (for I have stayed within the picture frame and given you a harmonious dancing surface to gaze at.)
This new work is entitled ‘Convoy’, because the roundup has become known as El convoy de los 927 (927 being the number of Spanish exiles taken that day). Almost overnight the tiny sketch evolved into a big idea with unexpected mathematical underpinnings. Through this exploration I’ve become compelled by the idea that a number (repeated) becomes a pattern, and that this can in a powerful visual form tell us something about the inability to ‘see’ dehumanisation in the face of number.
Working with traumatic memory has consequences, and I’ve often been aware of the need to pace myself over the years. You can’t work close up with this material and not be affected. What I’ve learned in this anniversary year us that it’s incredibly hard when such a tidal wave hits your global network. I finally realised this when a friend sent me a video the other day which I just couldn’t open. Earlier in February I wept at 6am as I logged onto FaceBook with my morning coffee and viewed footage of the countless Republican Spaniards streaming towards the border. That was my family, my dearest ones. I can’t help myself, I scan the screen searching for them. It’s quite terrible. All the footage which emerges has this effect. I relive it, and the deeply painful truths that were hedged as they gave my sister and I golden summers on the beaches of Barcelona
If you haven’t heard the programme yet I urge you to give it a listen. An art piece in itself, its a portrait of creative reliance in the face of inherited trauma. This has so much to say to us in present times.
Yesterday I cracked the piece for the final leg of my journey in a momentary flash of inspiration on acquiring a new and unexpected object. I can’t wait to share this with listeners to Radio 4. Tune in on the 19th March at 4pm and all will be revealed!
So I’m finally returning. I can’t help wondering what Abuela (grandma) would say?
I wish too that my father could know that I am going back to Catalonia, via the beaches of Barcarès and Argèles (where he was held in refugee interment camps), to retrace his exile journey to England in 1939.
I can’t separate what I’m gradually learning and absorbing of recent history from this present struggle. Why is so little spoken about the open wounds resulting from a national failure to face up to and negotiate historic memory.