Friday #ArtCrush is a weekly blog series highlighting students in their final year at OCAD University. This Friday’s #ArtCrush is Jamila, a fourth year photography student in thesis.
In this series, Jamila and Morgan talk about involving your family in projects and de-constructing histories and narratives.
What body of work are you working on right now?
Currently I am working on D U E N D E, my thesis project I spent all year on which explores my perception of a collective story, a family collective memory. Growing up as the eldest of three daughters and coming from a household where realizing my fathers alcoholism was an influence to our domestic behavioural patterns, I took a lot of curiosity into the causes and affects of our social and emotional interactive dynamics in the home. With this investigation/exploration of who we are: out came a flood of repressed memories and stories which all have another untold side to them. I have found so much healing in all the process work that has forced me to confront and work with this history of our family disease.
What subject matter do you tend to spend the most time working on?
This curiosity began when I started to photograph my middle sister Inti in my first year of high school. As an unusual adolescent who found comfort in her chosen isolation, her room, and her quite spaces, Inti’s presence in front of my camera has always been quit unveiling and intimate. She has allowed me to witness her in states of mind I believe she attempts to keep hidden and to herself.
Photographing her was my outlet at trying to connect with her engulfed state and in trying to understand my younger sister. She finds a lot of difficulty in expressing her emotions, so for years without realizing until only recently, all I did was alternate from photographing my younger sister and my family. I found myself circling around this notion of family, trying to reveal the things that I thought we tried so hard to keep concealed. I didn’t even know what that was at the time, I was always looking for a quality, an essence that just didn’t speak to me in a way I knew it could. So looking back now I believe it started with recognizing an act and becoming dedicated in learning how to interpret, relate, and bond with my younger sister through other interactive means.
Who or what are your main photographic inspirations?
My photographic inspiration started off with artists such as Larry Sultan, Julie Renee Jones, Nancy Friedland and Patrick Martinez. But for D U E N D E many of my inspirations have been feeding off from specialists, doctors and writers such as Dr. Gabor Maté, Barbara Coloroso, and Janet G. Woititz. The discussions these specialists talk about are of trauma, addiction, memory, absence, anger, acceptance, recovery, seeking truth, adult child relationships, development/child development, and internal power constructures.
In working through my thesis project I have found my most direct sources embedded in 20 years worth of journal entries. My fathers private journal has become something very eye opening, a starting point to a discovery, a rebirth of self. The narratives you read in my work D U E N D E are pieced together and re-constructed through de-constructions of his own narratives.
Working so closely with family narratives and histories, how do you find, or did you find it change, shift or mould your relationship to your family and close ones?
My family and I have open conversations about this topic, it is not something we tippy toe around. I have kept my family in constant involvement with this project; in fact they have been there to help me in every aspect of putting an embodiment to this journey of mine and of ours.
In all its process it has allowed me to connect the dots, fill gaps in the memories we share as a family. This has invited me to take an honest look at my family by using my past as a rear view mirror like a reminder that our memories and who we are is always changing and never the same as we keep moving forward. This has also aided me in figuring out or regulating my emotions in the relationships I have to date with people close to me in my life today.
In your thesis you combine photography and text, and handwritten text as well. What is your process of deciding how to incorporate text into/ on to your images?
Since the text is taken out of my father’s journal, the process takes a lot of time and energy to go through and read his passages, which are filled with introspective thoughts on disappointment, self-doubt, anger, and shame. There are sections that tend to speak to me more on a very conscious metaphysical level; where I see so much of myself and my own struggles in who he was and who he is. Like being confronted with a version of me who is not me but I can relate, I understand. It is in that sense of awareness that I find the words to tell my story of events in relation to whom I associate them with.
What is your process from when you get an idea, to shooting (or making), and presenting the work to peers?
Once I find the entries or the stories to de-construct I begin a lengthily process of assimilation and profound recollection. I sometimes look back at some personal writings and notes I’ve taken to assist or jog a memory and the story telling begins. Its like putting together a thousand piece puzzle without a preview of what it will look like at the end. It is very time consuming and I can have an idea of what the story will read but it is what it is and I can come up with a lot of other telling’s of the same stories but its about “accept[ing] the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference” (The Serenity Prayer).
Is research part of your process (research can also be personal/lived experience)?
90% of it is research and formulating a sense of direction and 10% is actually making it happen. My creation process tends to be spontaneous in that its not forced, it can’t be forced. Sometimes it takes allowing myself to feel threatened by my own work to really get a stripped idea of what I’m looking at putting together.
Research for me involves, reading, watching videos, questioning myself every minute and usually ends with my father giving me his “biggest critic/tough love/ get out of your little comfortable box” kind of inspiration talk to get me to shift from thinking and overthinking to just experimenting and take ACTION.
How do you think the critique process of thesis has aided or changed your practice?
Because of the very personal subject matter of my thesis I believe the critique process has allowed me to build the confidence I needed to speak about this topic comfortably enough in comparison to the beginning in September. It has helped me separate myself from the work enough to view it as my viewers would which allows me to figure out better ways to involve my viewers in a very personal body of work.
How can I condense or narrow in on a certain detail to convey a larger story? At the very beginning my work began as something very dense, very broad and it was too overwhelming to grasp my viewers interest in the way I had wanted.
One of the main issues I dealt with in my work was where to position myself within it. I got really wrapped up in telling someone else’s story, my fathers story rather than my own. It was during the critiques that I was asked to take my position in the work into consideration and i found a hard time accepting that my voice or my side of the story mattered. It took a lot of self-search and putting myself through intense mental states to manifest those memories back into a conscious awareness.
Is there anyone who you would like to work with in the future?
I haven’t been able to predict how my work could or will evolve up to this point. I guess at this moment I would say Dr. Gabor Maté, as much as he is not a visual artist or creator of any sorts, he is an addiction expert and a specialist in behaviour. I have been very moved by his theories and concepts of development. My inspiration has been coming more from intellect/knowledge rather than from a fine art or design basis.
Are their any specific OCAD U Faculty who have influenced your work? A specific discipline or course?
I would have to thank Kate Schneider, Lee Henderson and Simon Glass who have been my main influencers in getting me to think about aspects of my work in constructive ways. This is vital because it has allowed me to look at my own work and my concepts with a different lens other than my own. Their insights and questions really get me to see the pros in the difficulties that I find in my own work and they point out the strengths in my own flaws I tend to over look.
There have been few faculty that I have been able to share my work with who I believe really listen and take my initial vision into consideration when giving their constructive feedback. These are the few I feel really recognized the amount of potential I had in my work when I couldn’t even see it for myself. They have been there when I needed a push of encouragement, someone to just share my frustrations or difficulties about my work with, and to give me some helpful tips and pointers to just get me started when I didn’t know where to begin.
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone starting out in photography?
A piece of advice I would give is be comfortable with your process, as chaotic, confusing and consuming it may be, the self doubt means your thinking about your work and that’s progress. Be open to transformation; explore YOURSELF on a creative level. Don’t think too much, just do it
Friday #ArtCrush is a weekly blog series highlighting students in their final year at OCAD University.
Interview by Morgan Sears-Williams
About the writer: Morgan is a photo alumni and runs the Friday #ArtCrush series on the OCAD U Photography Blog. She loves speaking to other artists about social justice, how to break barriers within artist communities and nurturing the arts in alternative non-institutional spaces. She is the Art Co-ordinator for The RUDE Collective, and has done workshops on intersectionality and allyship relating to LGBTQ folks. To see more, you can visit her website or her instagram.