There is a Mirror In My Heart | An Exhibition

  • Sebastian-Mendes

About the project

There is a Mirror in My Heart is a personal artistic response to a little known event in June 1940, while a Portuguese diplomat, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, who was stationed in Bordeaux, France, acted against the explicit written orders of his government and issued handwritten transit visas to thousands of refugees trapped in the area of Bordeaux, between the Spanish border and the advancing German army. These visas made it possible for bearers to pass through Spain and into the safety of neutral Portugal. Historians and scholars of the Holocaust have recognized Mendes’ actions as the first and largest single rescue of the period.

Aristides de Sousa Mendes was my grandfather and a rich familial oral history, told throughout my youth had left me with many fragments of a story, with which to construct my own understanding of the story’s deeper meanings and how I might respond to it as an artist.

Eventually I conceived of a multi-layered project of three components including: 1) PalimpsestDrawings, an ensemble of thirty 24” x 30” ink drawings of heavily superimposed writing, recalling signatures, written over each other to create a palimpsest, representing the thousands of desperate refugees who were saved by Sousa Mendes’ actions. Each drawing is the product of a simple reverent gesture of remembrance, writing a number, refugee’s surname and the signature of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, as it would have customarily been written upon transit visas.

2) A continuous performance action work in the gallery, inscribing the surnames of the refugees who received transit visas from Sousa Mendes. These performance actions would take place over the course of the exhibition. The drawing’s is a seven-foot by seven-foot sheet of Japanese Hiromi Daitoku paper. The drawing has been worked on a large sculptural table, designed to evoke the conjoined appearance and function of a large consular desk with a functional drawing table. Each of the surnames included in the large panel will also be inscribed into a numbered ledger, like the original consular ledger used by Sousa Mendes.

This performance action work has an important social component of directly engaging with visitors to the exhibition who will be able to discuss the work with the artist and join him in pondering the meaning of Aristides de Sousa Mendes.’ Historic actions.

3) Bread Reliquary Suitcases. Bread is a multivalent symbol. In this project the inclusion of loaves of bread bearing Anglicized Jewish names made of bread dough will symbolize both the refugees themselves and their adaptation to new cultures in the lands where they found safety. Such loaves and slices of bread will be set in a variety of suitcases.