I began a process of rescuing memories after my father’s death in 1998. I was searching for clues which would lead me to discover more of who he was and as a result, more of who I was. Memories of his past were carried by photographs and negatives stored in boxes. Seven years after his death, my mother followed, leaving behind her personal archive in the form of a precious collection of handmade garments.
Her legacy was embodied in the delicately stitched and embroidered clothes she created for us for the key moments in our lives: baptism, communion, weddings. But all the while, my Catholic, Argentine mother’s needle was patterning secrets, unutterable events of the past: indelible images that would eventually surface and give light to her prophetic words: 'el tiempo lo dira'. that is, ‘time will tell.’
My father was a young Dutchman hired by the Turkish Embassy as their personal assistant first in The Hague (1935-1938), and then, for a second term, from 1939 until 1946, in Buenos Aires. Tall, blond and blue-eyed, he was my mother’s Prince Charming. They married and together raised four daughters. They lived a charmed life as, after the war, my father transferred to the Royal Netherlands Embassy as a diplomat and rose steadily through the ranks of the Dutch Foreign Service in Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico. By the time he retired, he had accumulated a string of decorations including the prestigious ‘Knight of Oranje Nassau’.
Silently however, my father suffered under the weight of an unacknowledged identity in and after the war years: he was Jewish. He therefore carried alone the knowledge that his parents and only brother were murdered in Auschwitz. My father had escaped the Holocaust through the good graces of the Turkish ambassador who had re-employed him for the duration of the war. However, in the anti-Semitic climate of Argentina, a revelation that he was in fact Jewish would have burst the fairytale bubble of our existence.
My parents came from disparate worlds but they loved each other dearly. For my sisters and me, his tragic story, her inability to acknowledge his roots, and the garments she so lovingly made hold the key to our identity. Without this specific past and the repercussions it had in their lives and ours as their children, we would not be who we are today.
In a most unexpected way during a journey to Istanbul in 2009, I met the children of the Turkish ambassador, now 80 and 82 years old, (former ambassadors themselves). They had grown up knowing my father, first in The Hague and later in Buenos Aires. As they told their stories and unlocked some of the mysteries surrounding my father, I knew the time had come for me, as a visual artist to tell the story. I heard my mother’s voice: ‘El tiempo lo dira’.
In combination with the black and white images of my mother’s creations are photographs of the Wailing Wall inverted. The process of inversion, unexpectedly transforms the texture of the wall and re-creates the experience of time, texture and wishes which come to light.
A short documentary film made in collaboration with cinematographer Sonia Herman Dolz tells that piece of family history by travelling from my inner thought world to the reality of a memorable feast with the Aksin family in Istanbul while they tell the story of a past which links us today.
The book designed by Stephan de Smet, and published in cooperation with Witteveen visual art center. It can be ordered via: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The research and realization of Time Tells were supported by:
Amsterdam Fund for the Arts
7 Hills Foundation
Turkey/Netherlands 400 years
Witteveen Visual Art Center