A Sister’s Death

by: Sarah Durham

Fabric, biro, threads on wood

This fabric has been hand drawn with sketches and words I long to say to my sister, as she moves towards her end.  Words I want to say but cannot say. Words I long to comfort my mother with also. Drawings from memory, I wish to explore with my nephews who are about to lose their mother. However, my family and I are separated via the lines and spaces drawn by Covid, our geography, the secrets, realities, histories and problems that lie between us.  We are all waiting, we are in stasis and in silence.  So, I have spliced and sewed my words and drawings around rope and wrapped them across another object; The rope measures 10 metres long (at the time of writing) and is an ongoing work in progress as is my past, present and future (impending) grief.

“This fabric has been hand drawn with sketches and words I long to say to my sister, as she moves towards her end. 
Words I want to say but cannot say.”

Possible intersections within a wider range of discourses: Waiting for death, grieving and genuinely being in and living an impasse is an active practice. Lisa Baraitser's book entitled Enduring Time (2017) are relevant here in her theories on care and suspended time. For her, such “acts of maintenance are durational and repetitious, they may concern time that seems frozen or unbearable” (Baraitser, 2017: 51). Being temporarily frozen out of productive time and “suspending the project of the self means suspending time as flow and living permanently with the time of the impasse” (2017: 51). She compares this to theories on queer time and maternal time in that they share a “dynamic chronicity, alive to the potentials of not moving on” or “being radically outside of the time of normative development.” 

In his book, Meeting Place (2013), Paul Carter draws up an interesting discourse on the value of ‘encounter’ as opposed to ‘meeting’ in his study on the possibilities of cross-cultural coexistence. His work comes to an understanding of encounter as putting the landscape back into meeting. Carter places much value on the vital listening or reading of human echoes and gestures: “There will be echoes or, more generally, noise, an acoustic atmosphere that is rumorous, like a forest collecting and communicating the tumult of the air” (2013: 42). Carter goes on to unpack the colonialist’s obsession with the bombastic, architectural varieties on the Agora, squares, marketplaces, ownership and flag placing and argues the case, instead for more erotic zones that allow for the possibility of encounter (or moments of penetration) like doorways, passages and windows. 

The living condition of the diaspora, is, predominantly, a haunting sense of displacement in time and space. A squatting, a stasis, a longing for authenticity, truth and permanence when seemingly incarcerated within an unendingly temporary, fragile positioning. Avery Gordon describes this condition as “furniture without memories” (2008: 7) or “being there and not there at the same time” (2008: 6). Just as ghosts are non - scientifically real, race is non - biologically real in that they are experientially real and “produce material effects” (2008: 17).

 “The living condition of the diaspora, is, predominantly,
a haunting sense of displacement in time and space.”

In the case of the performance writing by Grace Cho, Haunting in the Korean Diaspora: Shame, Secrecy and The Forgotten War (2008) such affectations have been investigated. Her workings are an exploration into the repressed history of the militarized prostitution that was inflicted upon Korean women during US occupation of her country. Cho performs out how “the past is in the present” (Cho, 2008: 29) in that the second generation of Korean people are haunted by the violence their parents will not talk about. For her, “the apparent absence of violence is the result of another act of violence such as the subjugation or explicit erasure” (2008: 31). Cho’s work is like a mind map that draws a new picture of the story of the, so called, Korean Comfort Women and, in doing so, curates and “articulates a monstrous family - a diaspora that is bound together through what cannot be known.” (2008: 40). Cho’s project is a welcoming in of ‘the irrational’ as a technology of seeing, hearing, and speaking trauma. She argues the case for new methodologies in crafting and activating new pasts and constructing the possibility of a reclaimed future. For Cho, performance writing is a crucial and critical media “both in its affinity with haunting and its articulation of the ‘dis-eased body’ as a symptom of the social.” (2008: 167).

So, the quotidian 'events' situated around my sister's brain tumour, and her impending death, have led me to a re-reading of these texts. The texts resonate with me differently now, as I am newly haunted and awed by the violence of erasure. Of being here, and not being here, at the same time.

---- About the artist
Sarah studied Urbanism at Kingston University and is currently at Goldsmiths studying Race and Social Justice. Her creative practise over the last 20 years has included urban design, housing estate renewal, art curation, writing and graphic design. She is currently working for anti-racist campaign groups in graphics and web production. Her visual art practise combines mixed media; working with fabric, text, screen printing, upholstery, textiles, sculpture and drawing. She was born, and still lives in North London.


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