How I will be remembered by my family and friends when I am gone? This existential question was brought to my attention while researching a cousin who I’ve never met, David, who like me, was gay. Up until this past year, all I knew of David was that he was gay; no indication of who he was, what he did, and what his life was like. Not a single member of my family, outside of his immediate family, knew anything about David besides his sexual orientation.
From this investigation I learned more about David, primarily from his sister Jane, and I learned how he grew up and how lived his life. He was colorful and happy and in love and it all fell short when he took Factor 8, a blood clotting treatment for hemophiliacs, that was tainted with the AIDS virus. With this new information, my eyes were opened to a whole new conversation. This work wasn’t just about finding connections between David and myself, but was now a conversation of how to break this reduction of the family archetype.
My approach to this concept uses found photographs of David and physically inserts my perspective into memories that aren’t my own, by manifesting myself in the words that I am writing to him. By writing these letters, I am verbally and visually communicating to myself and the viewer, how I am feeling and how I am afraid of continuing this cycle of reducing myself to these basic systems of identifying a person. These systems categorize a person and boil them down to the point where they are simply a one-dimensional figure; the personality and other defining characteristics are forgotten or ignored and a single label remains.
What I have found in this search for answers is a better understanding of what our identity is composed of. I believe there are two planes of identity; one that defines itself in relation to those around you and one that occupies within, a piece sticking out for all to see but a large amount hidden below the surface. These two identities influence each other and form our persona; how we present ourselves, our reactions, and our interests. They work in conjunction with each other and define who we are as a person. Inherently, I believe that our exterior perception of a person can’t truly define who that person is, and a person cannot truly define themselves. This is why I question myself at every step forward that I take. Am I making this decision because the influence of those around me or am I making this decision because it’s inherently what I want?
I am still working to find these answers for myself and I hope that this work creates a conversation not only between myself and David, but also creates a dialogue between the viewer and their own thoughts of how they will be remembered.