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How do we mourn?

Image credit: Shizu Saldamando

Image credit: Shizu Saldamando

by Shizu Saldamando

"How do we mourn?" I was immediately struck with that question because I feel so much of being an artist, at least in my own practice is the ability to mourn creatively. I once had a reading by artist Asher Hartman who read my chakras and told me he had a vision of a large black bird lifting me in its arms and stuffing red, gold and black flowers into my mouth. This image was a little disturbing to hear to say the least, so i went home and looked up the meaning of a black bird as a symbol and across the board it seemed to be a messenger of bad times, suffering and death. I sat with this for a while and then slowly it dawned on me earlier in the year that I had made several paper flowers, gold, red and black roses to be exact, ...out of paper. I made these flowers as part of an altar piece dedicated to my own family who had recently passed away and who were Japanese Incarceration camp survivors. I had gone to the Japanese American National Museum library and found an archived Woolworths flower making pattern they used in the camps to make flowers for deceased love ones who passed away while incarcerated. Since real flowers were not readily available, communal paper flowers were made when some one passed on. 

The vision of a black bird stuffing flowers into my mouth then became clear to me that this black bird was nourishing me in the manner birds feed their young.  The bird stuffed my mouth full of inspiration rather than bugs or insects. As an artist, I was inspired by my painful ancestral past and was able to take that pain and turn it into art and creativity - the floral wreath for my family. I went on to teach that same flower pattern in many workshops and exhibitions as well.

 

As an artist, I was inspired by my painful ancestral past and was able to take that pain and turn it into art and creativity - the floral wreath for my family.

 
Image credit: Jaime Itagaki

Image credit: Jaime Itagaki

So I was also struck by Master Ohi's inclusion of the crow in his lecture. I also remember reading an interview a while back with Takeshi Murakami who also mentions how artists need to be "necromancers" or maintain a connection to the afterlife. He was talking about his paintings referencing deities I think but it still stuck with me in the same way as well. So in that way I think the way artists and creatives mourn is by turning something painful and awful into something like art, or something beautiful, healing and transcendent.


Shizu Saldamando is a Los Angeles based visual artist whose work centers on subculture and perseverance. She received her B.A. from UCLA's School of Arts and Architecture and her MFA from Calarts. She has done residencies at CanSerat in Barcelona and ArtOmi International Artist Colony in upstate New York. Her work has been featured at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C., LACMA (as part of the Phantom Sightings Exhibition), and the 2015 Venice Biennial as a part of the official collateral exhibition “We Must Risk Delight”. She has had solo exhibitions at the Vincent Price Museum, Moore College, Steve Turner Contemporary and most recently a permanent display of her work at the Palms Metro Station as a part of the new Expo Line extension. She currently has work up at the Petersen Automotive Museum in the “High Art of Riding Low” , and as a part of the Getty LA/LA series, at the Japanese American National Museum, the Lancaster Museum of Art, Chapman University Gallery and Self-Help Graphics and Art. She has worked on staff for various non-profit arts organization and currently works as a tattoo artist. She is also a mother to a one year old.

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What I Learned from my Father

image credit:  Leslie A. Ito

image credit: Leslie A. Ito

by Leslie A. Ito

What I Learned From My Mother

BY JULIA KASDORF

I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins
and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point. 
I learned to attend viewings even if I didn’t know
the deceased, to press the moist hands
of the living, to look in their eyes and offer
sympathy, as though I understood loss even then. 
I learned that whatever we say means nothing, 
what anyone will remember is that we came. 
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
awful pains materially like an angel. 
Like a doctor, I learned to create
from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself, 
the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.

What I Learned from My Father

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About a decade ago, I was part of a reading group of grantmakers called the “Thoughtful Philanthropists.”  Each reading was carefully selected around the theme of empathy, philanthropy and service. One particular piece, Julia Kasdorf’s poem, What I Learned From My Mother, had a lasting impact on me.  I could relate from the perspective of how family and communities support each other through challenging times.  It reflected values that I was familiar with and reminded me of how I observed my mom and my grandma follow these practices. I imagined myself following in their footsteps, but at that time, I never thought of being on the receiving side of this poem.

When my father passed suddenly last Spring, we experienced the outpouring of love and comfort through food and close company.  If Dad had written a life motto it would have been “Eat and drink well in the company of friends, family (and occasionally, a friendly stranger).”  He learned this from his father and passed it down to all of us.  Sharing a good meal and pouring a drink was the best way my Dad connected with people and so it makes sense that when he passed, we had a continuous flow of people, love and food come through the front door.

Within 12 hours and continuing for nearly three months, my parents’ small living room was filled with flowers, the warmth and love of those close to us and a constant replenishing of food, spanning the County from Donut Man in the east to Giuliano’s in the South and every space of deliciousness in between.  The homemade love came in the form of posole, mac n’ cheese, baked goods, a full spread of Japanese washoku and our favorite family recipe, Blueberry Cheesecake from Cousin Denny.  As the weeks continued, friends set up a Meal Train* for us, signing up for meals delivered to the house. The fridge was overflowing with an abundance of leftovers. We were further consoled not only by those that brought food but also by the visits of hungry friends who came to eat and help us clear the fridge by taking food home, all while sharing their memories.  At first we had enryo about the Meal Train, but we quickly realized that preparing food was the last thing on our mind and having a meal to sustain us while we concentrated on the grieving was just what we needed.  It reminded me of how grateful I was to have my family deliver meals those first few weeks after delivering my son. 

Through all of this, I realize solace emanates from a full heart, mind and stomach. 

We were comforted by the love of food that represented L.A. and all the places my dad loved to eat.  A great follower of Huell Hauser, Evan Kleiman and Jonathan Gold, he would often send me links to Eater articles.  Finding the hottest new spot to eat was one of his hobbies. In memory of my dad, I have created this list, Phil's Phaves, that captures all of the places that our loved ones brought to nourish and comfort us in our time of mourning.  When you take a bite or raise your glass at one of these spots, think of Phil and the role that food plays in your life and your community.

Read: Phil's Phaves

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CELEBRATION AND MOURNING

by Tamica Washington-Miller

 

 

 

How do we celebrate? How do we mourn?

We celebrate and we mourn by coming together; by sharing our resources, properties, time and money; by working in teams strategically to move forward and up lift and support each other in the process, for the benefit of the family, the group or individual - Everybody pitches in to make it work. 


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