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What extraordinary times I’m living. Sometimes when I talk about the political sensitivity of my work it can be hard to convey the edginess of what I’m doing in a British context. Recently I expressed my sense that the works for EXILIO have a yearning to return to Spain, particularly the landscape paintings – to return from exile, as it were. This is something I know to be delicate – and yet I must say it.

And so I do say it in this blog, but also to my Spanish friends; to friends of the project who know. They know the context and the history, and their reactions remind me that this is non-trivial and possibly my sense that a return is somehow part of the scheme of things is still a surprisingly red ‘hot potato’.

Such a response came my way today in an email from someone who knows the lay of the land in Spain deeply and at first hand. Her confirmation of what in my heart I know still jolted me. I felt as a child would; that bodily sense of shame flooding through me for stumbling on this ‘out-of-my-depth’ adult truth. What I work with is quite literally a blood stain of such proportion that it can’t be covered over, and yet there is enormous vested interest in trying.

The exile experience continues in a true sense. My work would not be welcome in many quarters and I must touch deeply upon the pain of my father and his Republican compatriots at their continued expulsion from the narrative. The door is still closed in official quarters to their memory and their honour as Spanish citizens.

It is here that I begin to grasp another meaning in the new works that are emerging with garments and landscape labels attached. Working with post memory exile trauma is a no choice situation. This is my history and my reality. The new work signals both the childlike innocence in inheriting this through the family (by birth) but also the adult mantle I must wear. Learning to tread the waters of this polluted geography requires a certain know-how (yet to be acquired) and I must bump against it, for even as art often diffuses it also clarifies and casts light.

I must tread with care and cast the beam of my artistic torch with discretion and tact. My impulse is of course to cry murder!


Last post I talked about the empty well, when creative exertion has reached it’s zenith and only a seeming hiatus can follow. This can happen after a show and often seems like a full stop, when it’s only a pause. Time for reflection and time for what I like to think of as the gently chugging tumble dryer of the psyche – the unconscious – to process.

Happily, I see this pause as legitimate, as part of the cycle. It’s as important as the more obvious active stages in creative endeavour. And so it has been for me this time, and continues in further visits to the show, with guests and also alone. I observed this process of return to the work first in Howard Hodgkin, whose curmudgeonly presence appeared twice to my knowledge in the upper gallery at Modern Art Oxford, when showing this late works several years ago.

I saw then the value of revisiting the space and absorbing the show itself, each piece sure, but also the overarching significance of all that work on the road ahead.

This is week two of a three week run at Wolfson College for EXILIO, and the other day I spent three hours with a guest in the space. That’s a long time to talk about the work, but the story is deep and what often happens in my work occurred; connection and exchange. So that the three hours were about the work, about me and about my guest. There is something about the emotionality of my subject that allows others to emote, and this is just fine.

So in a sense, this post is about just that, about “wearing it”, though not on my sleeve but on my shrunken jumper. I wear it arrived at the show during the ten hours it took me to install the work. I had allowed plenty of time, knowing that I would be not just hanging work but also improvising assemblages, some of which I had formulated in my head but others which would flow in the space representing entirely new works.

I wear it was so fresh it didn’t have a title and I didn’t understand it’s significance. It was one of the last pieces to fly to the wall and my tired fingers, in retrospect, appeared to pin these enigmatic landscapes, in label form, to the jumper unbidden. I only knew it was right, felt right.

Close to the end phase of this marathon viewing session my guest asked me about it. Falteringly I explained, and began to know. These labels, this captive land of my father, these miniature landscapes of exile pinned to my shrunken jumper (both me and a child sized me) through the process of unravelling our history mean that I have begun to wear exile on the outside, articulated and no longer hidden and unspoken. Visibly of exile; I wear it.

The sensation I have on seeing I wear it is of the labels sticking to my chest and torso, much as blown about leaves or litter fishes up against so many surfaces both in nature and manmade, these labels have found their way to me.

The piece also, I now realise, relates to the mossy green poncho I wore to my performance in Cork, and which, at the last moment, became part of the work. It’s approximation to a worn/carried refugee blanket was very close in my mind and the phrase accompanying this association was “I am a refugee’s daughter and I wear it for him.” Thus in the performance (right at the beginning) I take the poncho off and place it on the floor to warm the ground for my father’s typewriter. You can see it here http://soniaboue.co.uk/section744867.html

I have the strongest sense that performance must stem from I wear it.

I end this post with the observation that hiatus, return and conversation can enrich and inform an artist’s practice almost beyond measure.


It’s a wonderful feeling to exhibit work that’s taken almost two years to come to fruition. Yet the sheer physical effort involved in creating, hanging and installing over 30 pieces (including assemblage objects), and organising the Private View has been almost overwhelming, perhaps leaving the creative well empty.

I’m referring to the curious waning in creative energy which occurs after a show. A noticeable pause, in which I find myself glazing over and staring out of windows; the absence of any focused attention. The mind is in drift, and somewhere in a dark and unreachable corner, like a tumble dryer churning in the recesses of a utility cupboard, the unconscious (I trust) is processing until the well begins to fill once more.

All I know is that the pause is important. Reflection is needed, and I’ve learned that there is no point in rushing things. It’s as though the mind has to absorb where its been in order to move forwards. I’m learning to understand that this is also ‘working’ in a true sense, and that without pause there can be no play. You have to play the long game.

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The work went up, guests arrived, we popped some corks and I was carried away in a sea of people – all asking questions, all showing interest in the story of my father’s exile. One even held my hand while she told me her story, and others spoke of their connectedness to this history. Many had a love for Spain, which drew them to this gathering. Some carried the burden of exile from other lands.

People I didn’t know seemed to recognise me – I suddenly realised this was because of the film Without You playing on a loop in one of the gallery spaces. The film is powerful. I know this now.

My favourite wall based piece is a copy of my father’s play, Tierra Cautiva. I do hope viewers noticed it. It was the final piece to go up, and during the install it sat patiently waiting. It’s waited for decades to be in the spotlight, so what were a few hours in comparison it seemed to say. In the final moments my fingers worked quickly, fashioning fishing wire in exactly the right places first time. Even the length needed no adjustment.

It was a wonderful PV, and I was quite astonished by the feedback. It’s an extraordinary thing putting up a show. At one point I wondered how this was happening to me? Did I do all this?

It’s the question I had privately asked myself when the hang was done. Somehow installing the work in a public space changes it. It’s suddenly not about your relationship to these pieces, but everyone else’s. There’s a strange detachment and mild sense of surprise about the origins of all this stuff! The studio is a very different environment, enclosed and interior. So I was pleased the work stood up to transfer to this new place, in which gorgeous vistas open out to where the river Cherwell greets the college lawns. That’s quite a view to deal with, especially when showing landscapes.

All the comments I received were so welcome, yet laced with poignancy for me. Perhaps this is the origin of the two day migraine I’m currently nursing. This was the kind of response my father longed for as a playwright – more than anything else. He didn’t want the exiles to be forgotten and suffered acutely from a deaf ears reception to his work. This affected him very badly.

So in all my joy in beginning to share this narrative more widely, there is also sadness and irony running through it all. Such conflicts often result in physical pain – the well known somatisation of the psychological.

This I am regarding as the aftermath and well worth it. I hope Dad is watching somewhere and finally having a ball.