I Am Because You Are
I have always been drawn to the Monarch butterfly. When I first started developing a body of work in college, monarchs and dreams were some of my earliest topics. I researched both for their powerful symbolism and connection to the psyche. On screen, I attached the butterfly wings of the Greek Goddess Psyche onto a figure I had photographed to achieve an image of a dream state while at the same time attempting to draw connections between the body and soul.
Most of us know that the Monarch butterfly embarks on an amazing journey, thousands of miles long, from the cooler north to the warmer south every year. But did you know that this journey is multi-generational? It takes up to four generations of Monarchs to make the trek to their overwintering site and the same number to come back to their northern most breeding grounds. The life of an individual monarch only spans anywhere from a few weeks to two months. But this does not stop them from completing their journey. They simply end where they must and pass on the next leg of the journey to their offspring. And so it goes on. A different terrain for each but the same end goal.
When I learned about the multi-generational aspect of the largest insect migration in the world, my mind was blown. What if we are all just one giant tag-team? One story ending where the next begins.
I have a stack of books by my bedside that I am reading simultaneously. The topics range from natural science to spirituality to parenting to creative inspiration and artist notes. Each night I flip through a few more pages of one book or another before falling asleep. An interesting thing has started happening. The pages I am reading seem to be intersecting rather poignantly with either events from my day or pages from other books that I've recently read.
One such instance was when I learned about the multi-generation monarch migration in Heinrich's book, "Winter World" only to read about a similar vein of thought in the book, "Grounded: Finding God in the World". In "Grounded", the topic of the matrilineal line of DNA came up. While we all realize that our ancestors play a role in who we are to some degree, what I read gave me pause. Although I was born in 1978, the egg from which I came, was formed in my grandmother's womb back in the 1950s.
The human egg carries half the genes of the baby to be. So whatever experiences my grandmother had while I was in her womb, affected how my genes developed within that egg. Her life is more than just a memory passed down to me, it is actually a part of me. We are directly linked to our ancestors. Their stories become ours. They are embedded deep within our genes, quietly helping to shape who we become.
With all this said, there is a underlying connection at play here. We are all individuals who essentially have at our core a strong interdependence on others. The African concept of ubuntu, also mentioned in the book, "Grounded", sums it up nicely. It literally means, "I am because you are".
When I heard that there was a call for self-portraits coming up at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland, I knew what I needed to do. I began layering portraits (featured above) of myself with younger versions of my grandmothers and own mother. Although my genes were influenced directly by my maternal grandmother I removed her from the mix when I realized that aesthetically I carried the traits of my mother and paternal grandmother combined. A very interesting find indeed. Not only did I inherit the love of arts from my paternal grandmother but physical features that I had never really noticed until images were overlaid. At that moment it became clear.
I find it fascinating how our bodies, emotions, thoughts, and dreams are influenced not only by our current day connections with other people but by the stories and day to day lives of those who came before.
Whether or not our journeys overlap as poetically as that of the Monarch, I'm not positive. But I have my theories. The old pages of my grandmothers diary have left me with thoughts on this as well. Her diary that leaves me at the end with the words, "to be continued". In the line of thought traced through the words I wrote here, you can't get more poetic than that...