"I remember by the time we left Belgium for Mexico, expelled from western Europe -- coming from communist Bulgaria with obedient militant adults not wanting to declare themselves refugees from the Eastern bloc -- we had so much lugagge. My parents by then were so tired of doing and undoing houses, so this time they took 15 suitcases! My hand luggage was a small, heavy suitcase of probably 9 kilos, when I was 9… I remember the very long corridors in the airports, my parents going ahead, also desperate with their own weight. They could not help me much. I remember my dad, sometimes stopping to take for some meters my suitcase, though he was already heavy with weight like a donkey -- una mula. I felt sorry for him, I was carrying his pain, too. It was hurtful to see him torturing himself like that, carrying more than what anyone could. The adults did not want to abandon their things, their objects and treasures. Before any departure, my mother handed us a black rubbish bag to fill with the toys we wanted to take with us. There was a ceremony to say goodbye to some of them, dolls and bears, an explanation given to them. I remember when we stopped in the Atlanta airport on our way to Mexico. my father was carrying all the slides on his shoulder, in one of his pieces of “hand luggage.” It was very heavy but he wasn’t going to take the risk to check them in with the normal luggage. We were in a security control, 1980 in America, and we don’t speak English. I am small and can see everything from below; he is tall, I see him from below, with his huge bag and suddenly a big black security guard pulls him aside and starts scanning him with the machine to detect metals through the whole body. This wasn’t new -- at every airport or security check in Europe, my father, dark and Arab or Indian looking was interrogated and checked, while my mother, German looking, was never checked. The guard had the whole day to do his job and wanted to show off his power, he was having fun with this exhausted man full of luggage (and looking like a Palestinian). The guard kept passing the machine, while my father, desperate, pretended nothing was happening, and that is the moment when I always became like a sponge of his fear and impotence. He was vulnerable in front of the guard, he is really scared of him and the security guard enjoys feeling his power. My father refrains himself from complaining and accepts the humiliation with terror (the terror and self control that he probably experienced in torture). So then finally the rope of the hand luggage breaks and the bag with the slides that had been hanging from his shoulder falls onto the perfect grey floor of the new airport, impeccable, like it had just been polished. I see the box of slides being smashed on the hard floor, the contained rage and humiliation of my father that silently has to start to collect the slides, his treasures, his humble trophies from the floor on his knees89. Meanwhile the big guard makes jokes in English and laughs with his female colleagues. My father attaches somehow his bag again and we continue to walk the endless corridors…
In spite of everything lost in Chile, Argentina, Bulgaria and Belgium, professional and social, in the way of living, in his ephemeral pass through Europe my father had registered the adventure of exile, the romantic and incredible side. Today, after having been submerged in the slides, a question came to me: maybe his dream was to take them back to Chile and give witness of his perils to his friends and family, so that they believe him?
There in his slides is the desire to capture the architecture and landscapes of Europe but also the moments when we meet with other exiles, the coincidences of meeting other pieces of the puzzle in Amsterdam, Paris, Plovdiv, Mons, Brussels or Lund. There is a desire to show a wider world full of wonders, no matter what, I think that this was the spirit that kept us moving, the spirit of giving value to simple stuff. His profession of art teacher rendered the tragedy more liveable, more valuable our humble resources. My mother, with her militant and social studies, was lost, the dream had disappeared, nowhere to be found. Obeying the orders of the Party had left us nowhere. She had lost faith in the struggle of her whole life.
Artistic tools are the only ones left to save our spirits. I can see handmade and painted hats for our birthday parties in Bulgaria and Belgium; my father spent hours making them and gave them away. There was this competitive and cruel spirit among kids towards the newcomers, but I remember that when my father gave away the paper hats, they accepted the hats as treasures, and some children kept bringing them to school, and that gave me value -- if the hats my father was painting were so valuable, I must have had some value as well.
Drawing was important and good, inventing life, recycling second-hand objects was fun and necessary, travelling without much money, staying in friends' living rooms, visiting free exhibitions, picnicking in public spaces, embroidering our summer clothes in winter, that was all we had left: art-inspired actions.
Acts to dignify precarity through art. To shape stones in a field to make a table for a barbecue. To transport a table in a truck to make a picnic in the middle of nowhere with chairs and tables and beds, while the children were playing to find arrowheads of obsidian that were there just by pure chance. All of this is documented in the slides.
What I can remember is very different -- the feeling of separation, struggling to fit, the adults gossiping about The Party, the good and the bad militants, who were the opportunists, a constant battle of a private discourse and a public one that never matched, because of an unnamed fear. The fear and shame of having detracted from Communist Bulgaria, and being blacklisted from The Party, our original family. The consequences of having embraced freedom of choice and travelling." extract from La Huella del Sueño, Marisa Cornejo, 2014