Un|Fixed Homeland, Aljira Center for Contemporary Art, 2016 Catalog: Un|Fixed Homeland - Page 44

Sandra Brewster Bourda 1, from the series, Place in Reflection, 2016 Photo gel transfer on wood 6 x 6 in. Courtesy of the artist Guyana Girl 2, from the series, Place in Reflection, 2016 Photo gel transfer on wood 6 x 8 in. Courtesy of the artist Bridge, from the series, Place in Reflection, 2016 Photo gel transfer on wood 6 x 6 in. Courtesy of the artist Erika DeFreitas b. Canada 1981 The practice of Toronto-based artist Erika DeFreitas is steeped in process, gesture, performance, and documentation. As a baker, DeFreitas’ grandmother sold cakes out of a humble home in Newton, British Guiana in the late 1950s. She also taught classes in cake décor to neighborhood women, reflecting the craft as one belonging to a community of women. She would pass down the practice to DeFreitas’ mother who later migrated to Canada in 1970, and in turn, taught the Canadian-born artist and her sister the intricacies of icing cakes. It is this sacred act of passing on a closely held family craft through three generations of DeFreitas women and across two continents, that forms the portraiture series, The Impossible Speech Act, 2007. The artist states that Guyana is an engagement with “A place I’ve never been to and a place my mother has not returned to since my birth.” In this work, rooted in maternal histories, DeFreitas’ mother is both subject and collaborator. Drawing on the teachings of the grandmother, mother and daughter take turns in a series of documented performative actions, both poetic and playful, to hand-fashion face masks out of green, yellow, and purple icing. From start to finish, the photographic series slowly unveils the meticulous detail, labor, time, and artistry embedded in the process of masking a bare face with these sculptural objects of “absurd growths of flowers and leaves.” The diptych featured here is the final two portraits of the process. DeFreitas states, “In a sense these repeated actions situate my mother psychically closer to her homeland as she remembers it, but only places me further away.” The artist’s choice to separate the portraits between mother and daughter can also be read as a commentary on the experience of separation when family members migrate. DeFreitas’ employ of icing as material is a symbolic one, noting that “historically, icing was created with two purposes: to be decorative and to preserve.” This symbol of preservation becomes one of irony as the masks inevitably lead to an absence of the faces, their complete erasure. The viewer is then left with the notion that even when we commit to preserving a homeland’s memories, traditions, and rites, loss still pervades. “In the end,” says DeFreitas, “the masks did not become a substitute object in each of our images, as they melted from the heat emitted from our bodies, the flowers and leaves eroding, sliding slowly down our faces…an unpleasant reminder of the persistence of impermanence.” 44 45