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.


Saturday was the launch of the show. I loved the details around it, the specially designed bookmarks for the poetry in the resource area (which are Rumi: Selected Poems and The Gift-Poems by Hafez ), the Persian –influenced menu at the café (would have been VERY approved of by my mother…) and some of the song choices played by the wonderful Manchester String Quartet – ( I felt confusingly uplifted by their rendering of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart.. and more appropriately by the Smiths’ There is a Light That Never Goes Out).

I realize I was too distracted to take any photos myself so once they are up I will add linked to those taken by MCDC, and they also made a film of the day, including of my artist talk so I will post that here eventually. I do feel all talked out, but I think it’s appropriate to post up some of the relevant diary entries I mentioned last time from 2005.I looked at them again and some of them feel just too achingly personal to put in the public realm, so I am posting up those which relate most directly to some of the works on show. The first being Mother Tongue (2010).

They were written to my daughter Delia, who had just been born, on December 2nd 2004.

‘Your grandmother (4.1.2005)

Delia, your beloved grandmother, who wanted you to call her ‘Papar Jaan’, was swept away by a great tsunami in South East Asia, Phuket Island on 26th December 2004 (last week.)

I am numb. What a huge loss. She adored you so much and had waited for your arrival for many years. She will always be with you my love. 
Rumi says: 
Are you jealous of the oceans generosity? 
Why would you refuse to give
this joy to anyone? 
Fish don’t hold the sacred liquid in cups! 
They swim in the huge fluid freedom.

Reg, her partner who survived and was with her just before the wave hit, told me of her last moments; when the wave came, it took the sea out first and left the fish on the sand. Your Papar Jan, not realising what was going to happen, rushed to pick up the fish and put them back in the sea. Rescuing to the last. Rest in peace.

My Mother’s death: dreams and signs (10.1.2005).

Have been finding it hard to find space to write about what has been happening. But I must record this – last night Mum was in my dream. A younger version of her with jet-black hair, less aged – she was simply being with us – her beautiful, comforting self. I knew she was dead but she was visible as a living presence. 
This weekend we all went to visit Reg (her boyfriend of 5 years who was with her in Phuket and survived- they adored each other). Leo, Delia, Farid, Fariba, Massoud, Simon and I. It was actually lovely to see him but so, so sad that she was not there…We agreed to wait to celebrate her life, not mourn her death.She still has to be found. 
The more we talk about it, the clearer it is there were ‘signs’ – the dream she told us about 3 months ago that of a tidal wave coming to take her away on a beautiful beach…with the comment ‘What an amazing way to die!’ and Simon (your uncles) dream soon after of he and I on a beach waving her goodbye as she got taken by the sea. Her phone calls to all of us on Christmas day, the day before she died. Simon missed her first call and he prayed (he doesnt believe in God) desperately for her to call back in case he never saw her again, which she did. 
I wish I had told her in that phone call how much I loved her – but I know she knew it, we had just spent so much beautiful close time together before she died, preparing for your arrival, during and just after your birth. Deepening our relationship. The relief around that is huge for me’.



It is almost 9 years since my mother, Parvin Azadeh Rieu, was swept away in the Asian Tsunami of 2004, an event which not only totally transformed my personal life, but my arts practice too.

Why? perhaps because I felt so connected to thousands of others who had experienced a loss of loved ones in the single same catastrophic event, or maybe partly because my experience of working digitally – focused on the other, the ‘user’ , which was taking me towards another way of working. Also, my MA in 2001 resulted in the creation of public installation works, a new departure. (More on all this later). For whatever combination of reasons, I began to work relationally, that is, I finally broke through the skin of the old paradigm I had so been attached, of solitary artist in studio, to feeling compelled to relate, connect, ask and answer some of the fundamental questions in life, in the public arena. Like, why am I here? What is this creative gift for? How do I relate to society and how it is evolving? How do I process grief, especially given the sudden and very public context in which I have lost my mother? How do I relate to others who have a comparable experience, and communicate this to those who don’t, through my work? Why does it feel important to do this?

This weekend, on Saturday, 1-5pm, I have a small solo show of some of my on-going collection of sculptures, The Gifts of the Departed, opening at Manchester Craft and Design Centre. These began as a creative making ritual of grief, using some of the key elements of my mother’s kitchen, wrapping them in cloth and kilim wool and then binding them with texts taken from my blog at the time, which documented some of the almost unbelievable signs, dreams and events around her death. The collection then expanded into using found object and Sufi texts to create what feel like three dimensional poems. Her death happened 24 days after the birth of my first child (and her first grandchild) Delia – at which she was present. On some level – in my emotional archeology – these two events felt and still feel closely related. Recently I went looking for this blog, which contains diary extracts from the days and weeks following the 2004 Tsunami, and realized it was no longer online. I felt a little shocked.

As part of this show, and also prompted by the devastating and resonant events which have unfolded in the Philippines, I will be re-publishing extracts from this 2005/6 personal blog.

The showing of some of these works is an opportunity for me to reflect both on how these experiences shaped my practice and to consider the wider questions around grief and the creative process, i.e what loss can give birth to if we allow and have the courage to let it. I apologise in advance for anything that comes across as distressing/sentimental/inappropriate , but since the experiences I speak of are so closely woven into the fabric of my creative being, AN seems as good a place as any to be their permanent home.

I will be giving an Artist Talk on grief and the creative process at 3pm this Saturday 23rd November as part of the launch of the show at MCDC. It is free and all are welcome. It will also be filmed and I will link to it here once it is up.