Only in Dreams are carrots Bigger ThaN Bears
This project's title is taken from a Yiddish proverb, and the prints are based on a deeply personal family story:
When my grandmother escaped Germany through Paris in the 1930s, her younger sister Liliya (my great aunt) went the other direction, back to Russia. In 1937, not long after Lily gave birth to a daughter, her husband was suddenly arrested by the KGB in one of the early waves of Stalin's purges. He was declared an anti-Communist and an "enemy of the people," and immediately shot to death. Lily was never informed directly of his fate, though she heard he was dead (his execution was later confirmed in documents released by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation.) All of Lily's remaining Jewish relatives in Moscow eventually met the same death, leaving Lily and her daughter Tamara trapped and alone in the Soviet Union for almost 60 years. Only in the mid 1990s was Lily able to finally reunite with my grandmother, receiving refugee status in the United States.
Not long after her arrival, on the occasion of my Bat Mitzvah, Lily gave me a carved wooden box filled with miniatures, which she had collected her whole life. Many pieces were jewelry charms, others decorative zipper pulls or doll accessories. As a teenager, I loved them as delicate antiques. However, looking through these intricate and strange objects more recently, I saw them differently. I was surprised how many of them reference American iconography - a cowboy boot, a jello container, Donald Duck, etc - all collected by a woman who had never been in the United States and whose access to outside imports (even mail), was extremely limited.
There are 143 objects total, which I have just begun to document. I photographed them, I scanned them (to see details not clear to the naked eye), and finally I got out my pencils and water colors. In short, I spent a lot of times with them. While these objects are incredibly personal, from a broader sense, I am interested in the art history of miniatures, and also the legacy of family collections. In a note accompanying the box, Lily calls them "our family's relics". I wonder what that means. While some objects are distinctly Russian, most feel more like remnants of longing for a different life- commercial production of the American dream, filtered through a Soviet lens. Yet the term "relic" also hits home for me that the objects were incredibly sacred to Lily. When she arrived in the US, she was finally ready to part with them.
Does your family have a collection? I am looking to document other family treasures - particularly those which traveled long distances, or represent a tension between two opposing worlds.
Themes explored in this project feel incredibly resonant with the front pages news of today. With that in mind, and in honor of my Aunt Lily, 50% of the proceeds from all prints will go to the Women's Refugee Commission, which "improves the lives and protects the rights of women, children and youth displaced by conflict and crisis."