I am pleased to have been invited to participate in this year's Day of the Dead exhibit at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago. The exhibit, Dia de Muertos: Living Presence, is scheduled to open Friday, September 22, 2023.
In addition to the ofrendas, paintings, sculptures, and installations that are traditionally displayed in the Day of the Dead exhibits at the NMMA, 18 women were invited to participate in the creation of a wall of flowers, the brain child of Dolores Mercado, Assistant Curator of the National Museum of Mexican Art. This larger work will honor victims of gender-based violence. Each artist will choose whom to honor—an individual or a group. We were given a large scale wood composite flower influenced by a Pre-Hispanic design and we will use it to create our own piece addressing the theme as we see fit.
I have chosen to honor Banaz Mahmod, a victim of an honor killing. For those of you who are not familiar with her story, I encourage you to watch a 2013 Emmy and Peabody Award winning film titled Banaz: A Love Story. I watched the film in 2021 and it compelled me to post, "It was like I was his shoe..." on this blog on July 21, 2021.
As I began painting the flower in Banaz's honor, I wrote a poem and it will be included in the piece. It was inspired by Banaz’s story from articles I read and the interviews from Banaz: A Love Story. The poem retells her story, but from my perspective. The words used to describe her husband, father, uncle and cousins are not Banaz’s because she was a gentle spirit who, in the film, did not use harsh words to describe them. I did, however, use something in part from the film that Banaz said. Referring to her husband, she stated, “It was like I was his shoe and he would wear it just whenever he felt like it”. I also used the words, "discharged my soul" because in a recorded telephone call, as one of her killers boasted about killing Banaz, he used the phrase, "the bitch's soul was not getting discharged"..."
Finally, exercising “artistic license”, I opted to write the poem as if Banaz were speaking to her older sister, Bekahl who was instrumental in obtaining justice for Banaz by testifying against their family in court.
Orange and Yellow
If only I could have colored your life
orange and yellow, sweet sister.
But some disregarded my desperate pleas;
others fueled their fierce ire and
compelled our cousins to “discharge my soul”--
the price I paid for parting ways
from a contemptuous cretin
who controlled me with a fist and phallus.
To him, I was not a winsome wife,
but a shoe to wear when he wanted.
And so, I ran for refuge--
to the two who divined me, yet wanted me dead.
Their honor, more valuable than valor and I.
Thus, the unimaginable unfolded.
Our father and uncle demanded my demise.
Our cowardly cousins complied,
but with an added touch of torture--
they raped and garroted me.
When they finished their demonic deed,
they dumped my vacant vessel in a suitcase,
and buried it in our backyard.
Now, I sleep as soundly as a floating fetus
in a warm womb of orange and yellow
and dream of you, dear sister.
I dream of what could have been and
of a love that should have been.
And if I could borrow the wind to whisper in your ear,
I would softly say, thank you, sweet sister,
for seeking justice for me.
But now, it is time to release the rage and rancor
and make your life orange and yellow.