Allegorical Representation: Objects of Grief

by Addi Catarina

Throughout this artistic exploration of grief and loss, I have learned a lot about myself and others. I began this journey by painting various objects that remind me of my sister (Fig.1), who passed away in 2016. I was able to communicate my own experiences and emotions through metaphor in those paintings, but knew that I would have to reach further if I wanted to understand grief and loss more completely. Over the past two semesters, I began to reach out to others and incorporate their stories into the narratives of my paintings. The result is the completion of the first phase of my series Objects of Grief: ten paintings that depict my personal experience and that of two of my close friends.

Throughout this process, I have been able to identify and share objects that remind me of my sister and have them serve as the vehicle for my investigation of loss and grief. However, my goal was to expand my series to include the experiences of others. I hoped that this would capture a more complete representation of grief and begin to facilitate a dialogue on a subject that is not always easy to discuss. In my search for stories, I decided to start with the people who I had a comfortable, trusting relationship with. I interviewed my friends and family in an informal, conversational format. I felt that a survey or list of interview questions would make the conversation too impersonal and sterile. I wanted show respect to the interviewee, and allow them to be in charge of what they shared and what they kept private. Many of those who I reached out to were willing and eager to share, and the fluid nature of the conversation brought out much more than I think could be captured in a rigidly formatted interview.

While interviewing my friends and family, it became obvious that their objects evoked many different emotions, that were sometimes conflicting. Like my experience with the dresses, the people I interviewed also saw these objects as simultaneous reminders of the good memories and tragic loss.

My friend Tess, who lost her mother many years ago, instantly identified an old Christmas ornament that her mother made when she was young. She chuckled while telling me about it because although she described it as “hideous” and falling apart, it reminded her of her mother’s beauty and humor. When she told me about the ornament and her mother, I saw both joy and sadness in her eyes. I felt like, for a moment, I had a glimpse of who her mother was and how much Tess missed her. It felt special to share that moment, and I asked her if I could paint the ornament. This will be my next painting in the series.

My best friend Michaela was also willing to share her story, but expressed very different emotions than Tess. Michaela also lost her mother, but their relationship was strained due to alcohol abuse and other tensions in their family. She identified two beautiful items that her

mother left behind- a pearl necklace and a book of Jane Austen’s novels. She explained that these items reminded her of the good parts of their relationship, however difficult they were to see at times. When painting Michaela’s items, I wanted to use the beautiful objects as a metaphor for what could have been. Buried under the stress of their relationship, there was the potential for reconciling and building a good future. Now that her mother has passed away, that chance is no longer there. In the triptych (Fig. 3), the necklace is slipping away, leaving emptiness and uncertainty behind.

This series has given me time to reflect on my own loss, while learning from others. I hope that these paintings will help pave the way for real, open conversations about grief and loss. In these unprecedented times, many people are experiencing sudden loss simultaneously. Though it is tragic, I believe this collective experience of loss will begin to shift the perception of grief and encourage people to embrace their own emotions, share their experiences without fear, and support each other through loss.

So far, I have shared the works from my initial series online with a national support group called “The Compassionate Friends,” and in the Conversations exhibition at the CVPA Campus Gallery, November 6 – December 5, 2019. I am excited to share the expansion of the project soon. I spoke to an administrator for the Compassionate Friends support group, who suggested I display my artwork at their annual convention. I believe this would be a great place to show these works, surrounded by those who can directly relate to the message. Although that will not happen this year due to Coronavirus restrictions, I certainly plan to continue my work on the series. By the time the next convention can be held, I will have even more to share with my audience. I would like to also exhibit the series in additional venues, including galleries and public spaces, in order to further the very important and necessary conversation about loss and grief.

“Objects of Grief” Series

Fig 1:   Absence (Diptych), 2019. Oil on Panel, 48” x 24” each

Fig 2: Necklace (study), 2019. Oil on Paper. Approximately 10” x 8”

Fig 3: Necklace (Triptych), 2019-2020. Oil on panel.  14” x 8”, 16” x 12”, 14” x 8”

Fig 4: Fragments, 2019-2020. Oil on panel.  6” x 6” each

Future paintings:

Tess’s mother’s ornament

Michaela’s mother’s book

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