“You had also prayed for me to look like Dad, but you forgot to pray for the rest of me. It is strange that you would overlook this, as you have always said ‘Be careful what you pray for’. When I take off my clothes and look in the mirror, I see Dad’s body, as you wished. But the rest of me has always wished to be you,” writes Toronto based artist, Vivek Shraya in her essay titled ‘Trisha’. These words accompany a series of recreated photographs that visually channel the other half of Shraya’s wishes–her aspiration to be like her mother.
With that, the artist handpicked memories from her mother’s long lost photographs and decided to subject herself into them. She explains to Homegrown, “I have long adored one of the photos in the series—the one of my mom in the green sari. As I have aged, it’s been surreal to see the ways I have morphed into a version of the person in that photo.”
In November 2015, with the aim of exploring these similarities further, the artist went ahead to execute the idea by conceptualising a photo shoot. “After that, much of the planning was thinking about locations, clothing and co-ordinating the schedules of the photographer, hair stylist and makeup artist. All nine photos were shot in one cold day this past March,” said Shraya.
She adds, “One of my favourite photos in the series is the one of my mom in front of a train, particularly because of the tissue she has jammed into her hand. It made me recall how my mom always has a tissue tucked into her sleeve. It’s small, seemingly innocuous details like this that feels precious, especially in the context of a project intended to honour her.”
By Vivek Shraya
[This essay first appeared on vivekshraya.com. It has been republished here with permission from the author.]
My story has always been bound to your prayer to have two boys. Maybe it was because of the ways you felt weighed down as a young girl, or the ways you felt you weighed down your mother by being a girl. Maybe it was because of the ways being a wife changed you. Maybe it was all the above, and also just being a girl in a world that is intent on crushing women. So you prayed to a god you can’t remember for two sons and you got me. I was your first and I was soft. Did this ever disappoint you?
You had also prayed for me to look like Dad, but you forgot to pray for the rest of me. It is strange that you would overlook this, as you have always said “Be careful what you pray for.” When I take off my clothes and look in the mirror, I see Dad’s body, as you wished. But the rest of me has always wished to be you.
I modeled myself — my gestures, my futures, how I love and rage — all after you. Did this worry you and Dad? Did you have the kinds of conversations in bed that parents of genderqueer children on TV have, where the Dad scolds the Mom — ”This is your fault”? No one is to blame. Not you, not the god you prayed to. I was right to worship you. You worked full-time, went to school part-time, managed a home, raised two children who complained about frozen food and made fun of your accent, and cared for your family in India. Most days in my adult life, I can barely care for myself.
I remember finding these photos of you three years ago and being astonished, even hurt, by your joyfulness, your playfulness. I wish I had known this side of you, before Canada, marriage and motherhood stripped it from you, and us.
I learned to pray too. My earliest prayers were to be released from my body, believing that this desire was devotion, this was about wanting to be closer to god. I don’t believe in god anymore, but sometimes I still have the same prayer. Then I remind myself that the discomfort I feel is less about my body and more about what it means to be feminine in a world that is intent on crushing femininity in any form. Maybe I got my wish to be you after all.
You used to say that if you had a girl, you would have named her Trisha.
Scroll down to view more photographs from the series.
Vivek Shraya is a Toronto-based artist whose body of work includes several albums, films, and books. She has read and performed internationally at shows, festivals and post-secondary institutions, sharing the stage with Tegan & Sara and Dragonette, and has appeared at NXNE, Word on the Street, and Yale University. She is one half of the music duo Too Attached. Explore more of her past works and upcoming ones here.
Words: Karan Kaul