Angela Graham


In Heirlooms, I have explored the theme of identity, through personal history and relationships, as well as societal influences. By looking at the identities of the women in my life; my mother Louise, my grandmother Angie and my great grandmother, Aniela, I have focused on how objects turn into mementos as they become imbued with the history of an individual. I used my working process to understand the women, and used handicrafts, and oral narratives as a means of identifying with a female history.

In creating this work I wanted to go beyond portraiture as a way to define a person; I wanted to delve into how they view themselves, their personal history and the influence of society on them as well as their influence on others. In deciding to portray the women in my family, I was unsure of what topics would arise, and what personal history would surface while making the work. Through my working process, I soon found that the work was as much about the Matriarchs of my family as it was about self reflection and my own interpretation of the family history.

Heirlooms uses altered objects as markers of personality. Working through my own memories as they relate to these women and listening to them recollect their mothers made me see the objects we collect and cherish as keepers of memories. Throughout the process of making this work, I marveled at how certain objects or smells inexplicably capture the essence of a certain person; they transport you to a time or place when you were near them, cocooned in your mother’s presence. I thought of how I would miss the sound of my grandmother’s voice and watched my mother cry as the scent of geraniums took her back to her grandmother.

The painstaking act of hand stitching fabric together or outlining figures in a family photo became a major part of the process for me. As I painted the subtle colours of my mothers face, I felt I began to understand her, and reinterpret her life through my fingertips. I began to think of the women who I have always thought of primarily by their roles in my life: mother, grandmother, great grandmother as people outside of those roles. Through this process I learned that I can relate to them as a woman, instead of just daughter or grand daughter. The hardships that they faced, and the expectations that were placed on them, became real to me in a way that they weren’t before.

In the installation of this work, I’ve created a space where the viewer can lose themselves in the art, and experience the work from many different angles. I want the viewer to engage with the art in a tactile manner as well as visually. To feel the texture of a certain fabric, to look into the drawers, open the books, and sit in the chairs. I hope through this work you can feel as though you are in the space of these women, understand how their lives happened, and occupy the same mental or spiritual space that they have, if only for a moment.