UNTIL DEATH DO US A PART
The family is often equated with sanctuary – a place where individuals seek love, safety, security, and shelter. But the evidence shows that it is also a place that imperils lives, and breeds some of the most drastic forms of violence perpetrated against women and girls…One third of murdered women in the world are killed by husband or partner.
(from Innocent Digest, UNICEF)
“Until death do us part” is my response to this atrocious condition. I express this condition with my oversize, empty and fragile wedding cake which informs and transcends all its manifestations. Statistics speak about violence within family structures, aggressors are not “unfamiliar” to victims but intimately related.
To my dismay in Italy every two days a women is killed by the partner or ex partner…
I’ve always believed that partner-killing by relationship type (cohabiting or marital) was something connected to remote places, like Ciudad de Juarez in Mexico or India. Unfortunately, there has been a noticeable increase in domestic violence or intimate partner violence, the killing of women seems mostly within this context.
As an artist, my works are an expression of myself, an extension of what I feel at the time. Being a woman my work is deeply connected to the house as shelter as clashing place and this is my way of expressing the inexpressible. I am interested in this ambiguity, this subtle space in between what appears and what it is.
Silvia Levenson, November 2013
I was born in Buenos Aires in 1957.
I was part of a generation that fought to change a society that seemed to us terribly unjust. I was 19 years old when in 1976 the military gained power with a coup d’état, and in August of that year my daughter Natalia was born. She is now the same age as the youth born during the dictatorship, from whom the military government stole biological identities. With inconceivable cruelty, pregnant female prisoners were assassinated after having given birth, and newborns were illegally put up for adoption and treated as “war booty”.
What happened between 1976 and 1983, throughout the military dictatorship, changed my life as it did to the majority of Argentineans, and it certainly influenced my art work.
As an artist I have always been interested in interpersonal relationships and in the relationship between family and society. In this case those who brought to conclusion the illegal adoptions had to keep the family secrets sealed, while counting on the complicity of those who chose not to look or search beyond.
Until now, after extensive research, the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo have identified at least five hundred cases of children stolen from their parents or born in captivity, who were subsequently illegally put up for adoption. Interviewing doctors, nurses, lawyers, social workers, officials, neighbors, and prisoners, the Grandmothers, during and after the revolution, continued to search for clues to find their nieces and nephews. Throughout the years they created a campaign, inviting children born between 1976 and 1983 who had doubts on their identities, to do a DNA test. And thanks to them, today one hundred nineteen young people reclaimed a basic human rights, the right to an identity.
The title of the exhibit – Identidad desaparecida – alludes to the emptiness that those children, who are now adults, left in their biological families and in society. It is an absence that weighs as much as a boulder in the history of Argentina. The military and their civil accomplices – doctors, priests and corrupt officials – wanted to make a generation and their descendants disappear from the face of the earth. Using institutionalized methods of terror, they tried to silence the mothers that every Thursday assembled in front of the government headquarters in Plaza de Mayo, asking for the liberation of their disappeared children or the return of their bodies. Untamed, the mothers, that with the passing of time became grandmothers, moved the center of their protest on the desaparecidos nieces and nephews, starting the endeavor of the search.
The central installation of the exhibit – one hundred nineteen infant pieces of clothing made in colored glass – is a reminder of the resolved cases of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, meaning the one hundred twenty eight children who were able to know the names of their real parents, the circumstances of their birth and meet their biological families. Even if the children of the desaparecidos are now adults, in my work I always speak about children, because the trauma originated in childhood, when the military, substituting itself to the democratic organs of Argentinean society, took on itself the right to decide on the life or death of the parents, negating every form of family identity.
Following this exhibition through its journey made me reflect on my identity as well, and on how art is not only a tool of knowledge, but also a tool of profound change. Other than being an aesthetic experience, art can contribute in transforming the view of the person looking and shake certainties. Through this exhibit I had occasion to reflect on my personal history. I left Argentina at the age of twenty-three with my partner and our children Emiliano and Natalia, and I lived, for the most part of my life, in Italy. And yet with my work I continuously return to the part of my existence in Argentina, which profoundly transformed me. It is as if I am trying to be a “balm for all wounds”, as Etty Hillesum wrote during World War II. Through my work I observe those wounds and I am aware that perhaps the only possible conditioner consists in not forgetting.
STRANGE LITTLE GIRLS
strange little girl
where are you going?
do you know where you could be going?
( from album Strange Little girls, Tori Amos)
My current work is related to the mysterious cosmos of childhood. Sometimes adults fantasize they can understand kids only due to they have been children too, but the world of children is still far from adults until they accept the social rules : what is good and what is evil . Those years to me delineate an era where the edge between reality and dreams is very evanescent. For this series of works I started with collages using pictures from my own childhood and masks of animals. I mixed animal’s heads and children’s bodies by emphasizing the dreamlike and unreal world of children
Frequently society expects children to be happy and carefree like in the adverts and everybody does their best to live up to these expectations. You have to be good and simile so as not to ruin the family photo album irreparably.
But living up to these expectations is difficult: I refuse to think of childhood as “ the golden years” to be looked back with nostalgia. As in the Tori Amos’ song, children in my work does not known where they are going.
Silvia Levenson, 2012
BODY OF EVIDENCE
The prevalence of heinous crimes against women in Italy, where I currently live, is what prompted me to research, and make work about global crimes against women.
In 2013, in Italy, there were 128 female victims killed by their partners or ex partners; that means that every three days a woman or a girl is killed by someone she once loved; someone she should be safe with.
In the creation of “Body of Evidence” I researched specific crimes against women, then reproduced the weapons used against the victim. Hands, knives guns, and other objects are replicated in glass then enclosed in old picture frames. In this way I placed the objects within the context of “home”: a domestic and sometimes uncertain place.
According to the United Nations the most common form of violence experienced by women is that which is inflicted by an intimate partner. These women are beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused. According to the World Health Organization 40 to 70 percent of female murder victims in Australia, Canada and Israel were killed by their partners. Studies also show that in the United States, one-third of women murdered each year are killed by an intimate partner.* These statistics are corroborated in several global studies and in countries around the world.
Silvia Levenson, 2014
* from http://endviolence.un.org
.. the fact is my early childhood, for years, turned me into one of the many walking injured
Society expects children to be happy and carefree like in the adverts and everybody does their best to live up to these expectations. You have to be good and simile so as not to ruin the family photo album irreparably.
But living up to these expectations is difficult: I refuse to think of childhood as “ the golden years” to be looked back with nostalgia. Like so many little girls and boys, I carry my emotional wounds with me, wounds sustained at home, at the school, in the streets, under the sometimes watchful and sometimes inattentive eyes of adults.
My work is a reflection on my childhood and that of many other children who built themselves armour-clothes to be able to face reality. A reflection on the imaginary little girls persuaded to put on Cinderella’s shoe. These children prefer to vanish into thin air rather than keep still, inside beautiful coloured shoes which, on closer inspection, seem to be made of glass and have a nail inside them.
Games, clothes, fairy tales are little dots to be joined up to form a picture in our memory. The image that emerges through my work is not very reassuring and perhaps it is merely another fairy tale, nastier and politically incorrect
Silvia Levenson. 2010
The majority of my pieces are connected with “housing”.
House as the universe and amplifier of daily life and anguish, at once a cocoon as well as a battlefield, a place of love, hate and tension.
Recently, the tendency is “to stay at home”, therefore, people feel safe in their protected and muffled world.
The American Constitution, model of western civilization, says that the “pursuit of happiness” is an inalienable human right. Sometimes attaining this right becomes a form of heroism in a society almost allergic to pain, illness, suffering and depression.
Happiness has become such an obsession that in order to avoid any failure, society itself is proposing something like “do-it yourself”.
From books, television, magazines and Internet, we receive all kind of instruction to get fast and easy happiness.
In this project I am working on the “cosmetics of happiness’.
My work tends to show the impossibility of relaxing inside our ‘cocoons” if the outside world is exploding. It shows furthermore the impossibility of being always on top of social expectations.
Levenson, January 2007