The last two years of my life have been heavily marked by grief. This grief was felt across two different scales: personal and collective. On the personal scale, I lost my beloved, a death that shook me to the core. Her passing has had such a profound effect that everything seems to revolve around that single event. It clearly has delineated a before and after. This grief cast a blanket over everything, not just coloring the everyday mundane activities, it changed time. The past became a blur, imprecise and further distant. The future is non-existent and the present slowed down until I could hear my own breathe. In doing so, each second became so dense that it suffocated the air, making me focus on the now, the space between breathes.
The second scale of grief occurred globally. As I was entering the early stages of grieving for my beloved, the rise of COVID-19 was just starting to be felt across the globe. In the upcoming months, collectively we experienced massive loss of lives, loss of our ways of living, and for better or worse how we viewed the world. Collectively we entered in a state of grieving that both united and separated us at a scale that is hard to fully comprehend even now.
The social distancing measures, the lockdowns, quarantines, and the public panic over restrictions cast a long shadow over this new way of being. Personally it felt that this came at the worst moment, just when I needed to be closer to others. It also came at a heavy price: the loss of freedom. A loss made all the more precious because grieving is suffocating, and isolating. Grieving is impossible to escape.
In my attempt to not fully drown in grief, I started to painting. Yearning for the catharsis that I find in each gesture and stroke, hoping that grieving will serve as an act of healing. I began to wonder how do we grieve? What is the appropriate amount of time? What purpose does grieving have? How can we make sense of our own personal loss when the world seems to be swept up in a global pandemic (viral, political, social, environmental) that trivializes our individual pain?
Perhaps grieving is eased by the understanding of how we choose to live and not what happens when someone we love dies? In my own grieving process there is an over emphasis on loss, both of the person who passed and what I have lost. What if our response to all the loss we experience could be tempered by a collective wisdom, by revelations and insights gained throughout a lifetime, would it change the way we grieve? Would it ease the pain?
Inspired by the Japanese tradition of witting jisei (death poems), I looked at how monks had synthesized all of their accumulated wisdom into a single poem. The compact flashpoint of a few lines brought eloquence to the richness of life while diminishing the impending loss they were about to experience. The work I made doesn't provide direct answers, nor are they meant to be deciphered for kernels of knowledge on how to grieve. Perhaps they are better understood as inflection points of insights and emotions that invite contemplation into our own experiences, and as such they bring us together in our collective sense of loss, and therefore embrace our own suffering while reaffirming the life we live.
Curated by Andrzej Kramarz
East Hawai'i Cultural Center, Big Island Hawai'i
December 2021-January 2022