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Burmese Letters (Akyab-Chittagong 1876-1883)

The letters sent from Burma addressed to my maternal great-grandmother, Louise Henrichs, and her sister, Marie Henrichs, have been the source, motive and object of this artistic project that includes works of various kinds. From these letters an entire work of collecting material and documentation unfolds in an attempt to transcribe, by means of plastic language, what these epistolary documents represent. That is, not only the narrated content but also the parallel history that the very same letters reveal to us.


The story of two women born in Akyab, a port city located in the Arakan region of Indo-China, now Myanmar, daughters of a German settler and an unknown native, who were at the respective ages of 10 and 13 years sent to a boarding school in Germany. A long journey without the promise of return that ends in Barcelona, with the last known telegram informing of the mother’s death.


There is an obvious novelistic appeal in the content of these documents, which consist of exactly 40 letters, two telegrams, and birth and death certificates. In them, it tells of the everyday aspects of Victorian society in an exotic country, marked by the changing seasons, the harsh climate whose droughts and typhoons ruin the plantations, the high death toll as a result of diseases such as malaria, typhus, as well as the social life of the Tea- Gardens, the tiger hunts, etc.


But what really impressed me and was the reason for my interest in these fragile papers were all those gaps that had been carefully practiced, eliminating certain fragments, names and words from the contents of the letters. It is in these veiled, self-censored spaces, where a past is hidden and where some class, as well as ethnic, prejudices are concealed. Empty spaces, silenced, where secrets and complicities are deposited, not only the concealment of the mother but also the denial of her own culture.


Thus, the handwriting and the gaps in the letters become the principal leitmotiv of the works produced throughout the project. Also, the widespread use of glass and porcelain, because of their immaterial and fragile nature, is appreciated, as well as the garments or textiles for their private and intimate appearance. On these materials, various techniques were used including photogravure, polymer and silkscreen printing, which facilitate the transcription and transfer of all kinds of texts, photographs and images.


All the works share the idea of collection that is unified under a common sense, presented in the manner of a collection to preserve. The display cases carefully safeguard and hold in their interior that which belongs to the territory of the banal and private. The works which follow weave a complex plot starting from the accumulation and the poetics of the object to speak to us of memory, desire, childhood and nostalgia.

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