The situation in Ukraine, to this man living alone with two cats in Kitsilano, is one of going to my phone early in the morning from my bed to check out on CNN the latest in the tragedy.
Being far from that place does not give me all that much comfort. I remember the days of the late 50s when in our boarding school in Austin we would listen to an alarm and we were then herded into the basement as a precautionary test for what was then called the possibility of a mutual assured destruction.
It is no longer a world where we can say, “I will go and live in the Argentine Patagonia.”
If have felt helpless until I contacted my Ukranian friend Olena Kuzyk. We discussed a project, and today, March 10, 2022 it came to fruition in what I would consider a spectacular fashion.
Olena is a master of makeup and with her Ukranian paraphernalia we had a successful session in my little studio. We were aided by my visiting musician (baroque bass, piano) Curtis Daily who lives in Portland. He skilfully converted a fat candle into a monument of wax drippings because Olena said we needed at least one candle.
What is the story behind the photographs we took?
It began some at least 24 years ago when my Argentine painter friend, Juan Manuel Sánchez was having coffee with friends in Buenos Aires. These friendly gatherings (usually of men in that past century) are called tertulias. The chosen topic of that day’s gathering was to state what was one’s favourite saint. When it arrived at Sánchez’s turn he said, “La Santa Conchita.” There must have been a roar of laughter.
Most women called Mary in Spanish speaking countries are not plane Marys. They may be María de Guadalupe, María del Perpetuo Socorro or in the case here María de la Inmaculada Concepción. These latter Marys are called Concepción for short and affectionately everywhere except Argentina, Conchita. We know that thanks to Linnaeus, who equated the sexual organs of conch shells to those of female humans, that there have been connections to private female parts in rude lingo.
In Argentina concha is what women have that men lack. It is a very bad word.
So Sánchez’s choice of saint was a joke but there was no motive to insult anybody or any women with it.
When Sánchez, his wife Nora Patrich and I started collaborating at the beginning of this century one of our projects was to depict ethnic Madonnas. I photographed four, an Argentine, a Chilean, a Vietnamese and an Egyptian. The exposure of skin in those Santa Conchita’s could never be shown here.
When I exhibited them in a joint show in Buenos Aires with Nora Patrich (by then Sánchez had died) most of my family did not show up saying “sos un blasfemo.”
But in remembrance of my mentor and friend Juan Manuel Sánchez, Olena and I decided that we had to keep the name of Santa Conchita when we added “de Ucrania”.
We feel that our collaboration has produced a strong image that represents our protest for what is happening in that country that may be far away, but has hit us home.