From Family Memory to Collective Imagination
By Shirley Moreira
The creation of personal identity is nurtured by many factors. The family, the domestic space, the social network, the cultural and political context are some of the steps through which the individual passes in the process of forming his or her individuality. The young artist Brenda Cabrera does not place herself as a passive entity in the face of such circumstances, but establishes a different dialogue with what could be a natural occurrence of existence. In this way, she starts by making this formative dynamic conscious and then deploys it as the essence of her creative process.
Her childhood, like that of many, was marked by memories of the former Soviet Union; by family memories of a friendly and distant country where they stayed for some years. Postcards, ornaments, crockery and toys of particular invoice began to model the first images of her visual culture. The dynamics of that nostalgic attachment to the past, the forces of objects to trap the memories of a home founded on fragmented utopias began to model, early on, some paths within her creative concerns.
Objects, photographs and anecdotes have conditioned his way of perceiving reality and feeling art, which is why she always returns to them as discursive material and support. The life stories and family photographs, beyond forming the visual heritage of her early years, came to configure a real imaginary for the artist, a quasi life experience. Feeling in her own skin the memories of others has been a process that has partly defined her everyday life. In 2018 she makes the series Anecdotal Reconstruction, where through old photographs and drawings/sketches on alba paper she reconstructs new stories (her own stories) from family narratives.
The visual strength of objects as decoders of a particular identity leads her to work in 2019 on a photographic series where she takes images of decorative elements brought from the Soviet Union, placed in her usual spaces inside the house. These are pieces of an intimate nature, where objects and their imperfections become protagonists to talk about the passage of time, the rupture of ideals and the nostalgic attachment to the past.
However, even though it starts from personal experience, the discourse expands and takes on other connotations. It is then when the cracking of the family utopias is connected with that of a whole society that lived for years under the warm wings of the Soviet Union, that also added to its identity a specific visual culture, learned a new language and shared ideologies. A society that preserves the memories of the avalanche of products made in USSR, but also the bitter memories of what came after.
Brenda’s work is full of that poetry of memory and intimacy. A work that can be appreciated calmly, because that is precisely how the process of creation takes place. It is evident that observation is fundamental for the artist. She carefully decodes the dynamics of her family context and then connects it, in a relationship of contrast or equality, with her immediate social framework. And it is here where the work becomes more incisive. There is no visual complacency or gratuitous nostalgia. Her concerns probe the various processes of the death of chimeras, of the rupture of ideals that are founded on not so solid foundations. In each work his home becomes a nation, and vice versa.
Some of her video works are also born from this process of observation. In Loop (2019) she enters the intimacy of a home and captures the constant head movements of a mentally disabled person. What might seem a completely everyday and inconsequential situation, in Brenda’s video acquires great discursive potential. This life in a loop speaks to us of cycles that do not close, of life in continuity, of the past that returns again and again, not only for a family with certain problems, but also for society as a whole.
Fallas del paisaje (Landscape Failures)is a 2020 video that also delves into the processes of memory. Someone asks an old woman if she knows a field of flowers that is on a Soviet postcard that belongs to her. The lady evades the questions, she does not remember or does not wish to remember. Time is capable of creating many things, but also of dismantling, with the same force, each of the utopias.
For Brenda Cabrera, art is a means of connection with life. Each piece is a sort of self-portrait where she lays bare her essence and in a ritualistic way connects it to a much larger cultural universe. Her work shares that double condition of being both subtle and incisive, of forming a bridge between the memories of the past and the dynamics of the present. It is precisely in that bridge, in that intermediate point, where the strength of his discourse takes place, because she is not content with evoking memories, but constantly investigates the ways in which those memories are reconfigured in contemporaneity.