Boxing Day, 9th Anniversary: Ashes, Lifeboats, Rice Cookers, Calm Seas.

Nine years. a cycle, the number of return, of completion. Am mindful of this number and its importance in The Gifts (2010) which was the first project I blogged about on this site and contained 999 objects the first 99 of which were my mothers effects merged with my own… the lowest object being the plastic birth clip from the Royal Free where Delia arrived into the world, bound with pink sari material from Sri-lanka I had been gifted by someone who also survived the Tsunami…

Nine years, it has been calm seas inside today. A contrast to past years. I have not felt very much at all beyond a certain peace and distance. The early anniversary days were spent in mixed states of intense emotion – the first year with many family members and friends eating Iranian food and toasting mum. The following alone in bed weeping and unable to rise, others on a rollercoaster of grief and relief. Always a pull to be by the water though, initially for the first few years a feeling of quiet panic as the Christmas period approached – the expectation of celebration –especially as a new young family – mixed with the dread of the hangover of boxing day and all it now meant. Avoiding watching TV, to keep free of the images that had haunted me in my dreams. An awareness that my mother was only one of 230,000 souls lost in the sea and many others displaced or disinherited of their land as developers moved in and re-appropriated their homes.

So, this Boxing Day – a sunny, calm day in contrast to the storms this week. My friend Lili (one of Delia’s godmothers) drove us through country roads immersed in water, whole fields turned to lakes from the recent storm. Arriving at Birling Gap, a deeply beautiful cove near Eastbourne, Seven Sisters, where my mother first landed in the UK in 1965 to study as a nurse and where she had specified in her will that she wishes her ashes to be scattered into the sea. And where we tipped her ashes, flown back from Phuket, into the water before turning the Hafez to give us a line.

The main exceptions to my calm state were:

1. On Christmas Day, opening a gift from one of my mothers oldest friends, Jila, who has kept in loving touch with us and relates to my children almost as grandchildren, in a way similar to I think my mum might have. I opened the gift, which was a Persian Rice Cooker – and immediately burst into tears. Like my mother would have, she had noticed I no longer possessed a fully working rice cooker, having turned 3 of my mothers the sculpture Mother Tongue, (in the current show) and given the other one away, leaving me one. This object still has such resonance for me. It IS she. It is a symbol of food as love, as social connection, nourishment and nostalgia, tadik – the crispy crust that all visitors to Iranian homes wait to pounce on when the lid if lifted…

2. On the beach today, in the fresh breeze and sunshine, watching the children jumping in and out of the edge of the waves, the crumbling white rock and us picking out a poem from Hafiz which both took my breath away, both left a tear and made us all laugh, it was so in tune with my mothers sense of humour:

The Great Religions

The Great Religions are the ships

Poets the life boats

Every sane person I know

Has jumped overboard

That is good for business

Isn’t it Hafiz?

Hafiz (trans. Daniel Ladinsky)


The Longest Night: Be refreshed in the darkness

Night cancels out the business of day

Inertia recharges the mind

Then the day cancels the night

And inertia disappears in the light.

Though we sleep and rest in the dark,

Doesn’t the dark contain the water of life?

Be refreshed in the darkness.

Doesn’t a moment of silence

Restore beauty to the voice?

Opposites manifest through opposites:

In the black core of the heart

God created the eternal light of love

Rumi – Masnavi (1, 3861-65)

I have been struggling with dualities, everywhere. Appropriate as I am writing this in the early hours of Shabi Yalda – ‘The Longest Night’ in Iran, or the Winter Solstice round here (Lewes is full of rituals, druids etc). Yalda means ‘rebirth of the sun’ and what I remember most growing up was the image of having to jump over a fire to ensure I got a decent husband later in life, must have been somewhat off the mark from the original spirit of using fire to encourage the sun to rise and overcome the darkness of winter…

Yalda was a favourite tradition of my mums (after Nowruz, the Persian New Year). She made ‘ashe reshte’, a soup of noodles, beans, greens and soured dry yoghurt and when I went to Tehran in 1998 I recall sitting around with my cousin and his friends trying to make sense of their bemused translations of Hafiz (‘The Invisible Tongue’) one of my favourite Sufi poets whose work it is a tradition to use for bibliomancy (divining the future with books). Since I am not bi-lingual my main access to Hafiz, is through the renderings of his work by Daniel Ladinsky – in particular the collection The Gift, which contains poems I pulled out at random and conceived whole new projects from as a result –Including The Bibliomancer’s Dream (2009). So I owe him much, yet I know I only glimpse the shadow and not the object in not having Farsi as my mother tongue. (which incidentally is the title of one of my first and favourite sculptures in the show, and speaks of lost language itself).

I was wondering which diary entry would be relevant to today and found one which communicates the duality present in the Rumi poem at the top: it is both devastating and hopeful, as – 6 weeks after my mum went missing – I started to read my dreams in an almost sobering way, as if to talk myself into stepping into a new space. So here it goes:

Dreams all around us (II) (Diary entry 8.2.2005)

I dreamt of my mum again. She was cooking in the next room in a house I wasn’t familiar with and I went in

quickly, in case she disappeared. She was in pink. I told her ‘I love you. Do you love me?’ and hugged her. She was detached but said yes – I think. I said ‘I miss you’. At that point she was in blue and just glided by, untouchable. 
Then she was at the stove again and turned on the gas flame, a high flame. I asked if she wanted us to set up a memorial fund in her name, and she just disappeared. 

What was that saying (Buddhist?): ‘In the face of death, have no attachment or aversion’? – I guess it’s the only way to be free of this world, in the next world, whatever that really means. 
Also, she can’t answer my questions anymore – I have to find my own answers. This feels so sad, and I miss her so much. 
The second part of the dream I remember was in a house with a lot of people – the same people? Lots of them got gassed and died – by accident I think – but I survived along with a few others. I looked into the mirror to check I was alive; I wanted to live, to wake up and live. 
Today is a beautiful sunny day and its Leo’s birthday, my love. And Delia’s head has grown a bit overnight! 


The Absent Other.

‘Objects, particularly those that are part of everyday, material culture, are things we carry with us, and it is in this sense that they take on the cultural markers of memory and of time as well as performing the rituals of our everyday. Remember the first security blanket of childhood and the swaddling cloth of birth. Objects can be ‘possessed’ by the self in many surprising ways. This ‘possession’ is, according to Susan Stewart, a guarantee of the presence of the absent other. The power bestowed on such objects, implies Stewart, is precisely dependent on the fact that they are a possession, an extension of the self but which also reminds us of the threat of loss. [i] This leads me to propose that objects regarded as personal memorabilia can be addressed in relation to memory, absence grief, anger and remembrance and are ‘supplemented by a narrative discourse’ through the language of longing.[ii] This supplement further contributes to a surplus of significance with its reference to the past, rites of passage and ceremony in so far as it permits objects to conjure a kind of magic aura and phantasms of fictional histories beyond any objective reality’.

From ‘One and another: a Handshake with the Ancestors’, Janis Jefferies – The Gifts,(Azadeh, 2010) Exhibition catalogue.

Missing / Present

 (from my diary entries Jan 21st/30th 2004)

 ‘Delia, your Papar Jaan, whose wish in her Will was to be cremated and have her ashes thrown into the sea at Birling Gap near Eastbourne, is still missing, at sea, presumed dead.

She came to your uncle Simon, in a dream this week to ask him what happened, what the story of her death was? So he told her. She was taken aback a little, but also somewhat amused, and in good humour… She was all in deep pink. Funny because I bought loads of pink clothing last weekend (and I never normally wear pink) and have been wearing it everyday. Someone told me it is the colour of protection.

Also, I dreamt that I was searching for her in the ‘Valley of Death’ (how much more biblical can you get…). A valley through which were passing all the souls of the people who died in the Tsunami. I went towards one who I thought was mum, sensing her. As I did, the shadows of the souls, including hers, passed through my body – warm and moist. I was totally unafraid.

 Delia, you are a 7-week-old golden angel, becoming more and more alert every day….
The most beautiful, delicate features, a pixie nose, dark blue eyes and cupid lips. A long body and the most elegant, long fingers. Will you be an artist? You have such a calm, mellow nature, you are all potential. 
Such a gift at such an intense and sad time. Grief balanced by joy, balanced by grief again.

Stuart said that Mums energy is transformed through death like rain into a cloud. I saw this very image the next day as Maria, you and I climbed over the hill in Brighton towards the sea. He says he saw her ‘in me’ and it’s true I have felt her energy very close to me. 
If only she were here, cooking…I only have the empty rice cooker she left with me till her next visit. I will honor her by perfecting the favorite dishes she used to make (she made them all in the week before you arrived, some are still in the freezer, ready for this time). Fesinjan, gormeh sabsi, galieh mahi, kookoo sabsi. She was the greatest cook.’ 


When you are with everyone but me

You are with no-one

When you are with no-one but me

You are with everyone

Instead of being so bound up with everyone

Be everyone

When you become that many, you’re nothing.


Rumi (from ‘The Essential Rumi ‘ trans. Coleman Barks)

[i] Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives on the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1993) 126.

[ii] Ibid., 136.


Artist, mother, human being: a dance.

‘Love of the dead does not last,

Because the dead will not return

But love of the living

Is in every moment fresher than a bud..’


December 2nd was my daughter’s 9th birthday, falling 24 days before my mother was taken by the sea (her name, Delia, comes from Cordelia, meaning ‘daughter of the sea’). In my personal archeology, she and my mother are inextricably linked, as if my mother were able to leave, knowing that another, fresher source of love would be taking her place and my attention.

Over the last nine years I have shed many skins – as if I have had to re-draw the lines between myself and her in terms of values, hopes, dreams and really step into myself as a lone being, shaking off a strong and powerful influence, both loving and sometimes overbearing. In that process it is as if she has become much more a part of me, as if – returning to the language of food! – I have been digesting her and now have a clearer sense of who I am in relation to her.

Last week at my artist talk at the opening of the MCDC show, (to be posted online soon) I reflected on the idea that as humans, conditioned into a linear narrative of emotional reactions to a series of life-changing events, we need to be trained more and more into the holding of an emotional duality –eg, the grief of the loss of the mother, combined with the joy of the new relationship of a child. At night, in the first weeks of her death, waking up howling from dreams of her and the realization that she may no longer be physical and ever touched or heard again. In the day, taking in the waves of love and the softness of a new born baby and the shifting of my attention away from me to another.

On reflection, this has been a kind of invaluable training in dealing with life in a more general sense – the duality of working as an artist – in need of a certain degree of freedom and creative space to develop ideas, work, relationships – coupled with the role of mother, which operates as a channel for fulfilling the needs of others on a 24 hour basis, whether this is characterized by the physical dependence at the baby stage, then the more complex emotional rollercoaster of intense negotiations and working through (or sometimes just reacting to or wanting to run away from) conflicting needs between siblings and between children and parents.

Parenting is perhaps the perfect antidote to being an artist on the level of ego – it is ego-destroying by its very nature, it has brought me right back down to (challengingly domesticated) earth when I was a few times in danger of flying off the edge of an almost narcissistic cliff, having forgotten at times I am simply a channel for the work I make and not its originator. And yet I know I am valued in both realms, but in very different ways. Often I have found one to be a refuge and relief from the other (mainly my work to be a refuge from the intense demands of family life, if I am honest).

My partner and both children came to the opening (a rare occurrence) and all of them sat through the entire talk. This was a first – and especially since (or maybe because) it is a show that originates from such major events which have shaped all our lives – it was like the two major and interdependent sections of my life eclipsed each other for a day and for once I was at ease with it. This feels like another small step in integrating what can often be conflicting spaces within myself – the artist, mother, and human being. I think this is a life – long process, a kind of dance, sometimes awkward and slow and sometimes the only way to burn away any sense of being torn in two, or caught within a role and space of one’s own making.