Silver Stories from Artist Micaela Amateau Amato

15 February, 2022
In these two works from artist Micaela Amateau Ama­to, glass paint­ings hov­er sev­er­al inch­es over the wall held with wood or met­al brack­ets — 0il paint is thick/intended to refer to body/flesh/sensuous move­ment jux­ta­posed to pre­cise geo­met­ric shapes and even small three dimen­sion­al struc­tures that are adhered to the sur­face of the plate glass. The plate glass ground often seems to dis­ap­pear while the fleet­ing tex­tured oil paint skin defies what we think we see. The plate glass is often wire plate glass, fur­ther defin­ing a solid­i­ty of struc­ture that is also trans­par­ent. Paint is scraped away to expose what is under­neath and beyond. There is often a slide — and the pho­tographed image is reflected/“projected” like an appari­tion onto the wall behind float­ing glass as light illu­mi­nates onto the wall and hal­lu­ci­na­to­ry struc­tures. Shad­ows both define and con­fuse log­ic of what we think we see. Ambi­gu­i­ty and con­tra­dic­tion are cen­tral to sen­so­ry and philo­soph­i­cal meaning.

 

Micaela Amateau Amato

 

Sil­ver Sto­ries   Book #1 

Ch 1

She told me she wrote her sto­ries across the walls of her room in tiny sil­ver ink that dis­ap­peared and reap­peared, depend­ing on how the light of day or lamp illu­mi­nat­ed the sil­ver lines. She told me sev­er­al voic­es could be heard through­out the room — some soft­er and indis­tinct — while oth­er voic­es, and even words, could be heard more clear­ly. Frag­ments of sen­tences unfold­ed, she said, weav­ing togeth­er most­ly non-sequiturs. Some­times mak­ing sense, the words pro­voked a gasp or cry from depths of her emo­tions she hadn’t known were there need­ing to be released. Voic­es and text emerged, con­verged, or dis­ap­peared, depend­ing where she stood and how she nego­ti­at­ed her space, she said. 

She rec­og­nized images from mem­o­ries unseen but some­how known, all com­pressed safe­ly, pre­car­i­ous­ly between thick sheets of plate glass sus­pend­ed on the walls of her room hov­er­ing in between the sto­ries writ­ten in sil­ver script with­in the con­fines of shapes of shad­ows of wax­en bou­quets of flow­ers strewn here and there. 

Read­ing and reread­ing these sil­ver words she knew she was not alone but in the mid­dle of many des­tinies, many par­al­lel worlds. “It is writ­ten, they say,” she told me. 

Hear­ing these fleet­ing voic­es as inter­jec­tions, con­ver­sa­tions she came upon, dec­la­ra­tions of some­thing real but still enig­mat­ic, she wrote them down in the back pages of books that had nei­ther pro­voked their sud­den appear­ance nor explained their ori­gin or pur­pose. Short cir­cuits in her brain? Senil­i­ty of some sort jolt­ing into her present coher­ence? Or per­haps some­thing far more won­der­ful and even euphor­ic. A recog­ni­tion of her expan­sive soul trav­el­ing time and space. These inter­jec­tions she lat­er tran­scribed in sil­ver text across the walls of her room. 

Ch 2

She asked me a dif­fi­cult ques­tion. Tell me please, if a crime hap­pened decades ago, is it no longer a crime she asked. Even if the crime — a rape, a beat­ing, a mur­der — hap­pened only once or maybe twice in a person’s youth, is that a crime that should hound and haunt a per­son and ruin lives like the crime itself that still hounds and haunts me today every­day she asked? I was pen­e­trat­ed in the mid­dle of the night, she told me, by a close friend, she said — when I was in col­lege, she told me. He had been a high school boyfriend, but she had nev­er had sex with him. He worked in the Governor’s office now she said. Should she go pub­lic with his crime? she asked me. Prob­a­bly I would not, I told her. She protest­ed, and, almost unable to breathe, she con­tin­ued her sto­ry. Two years lat­er, she said, she was raped on a blind date. He was a friend of one of her friends. But her friend, she said, did not believe her. Her friend’s name was Fran. If he ran for polit­i­cal office should she go pub­lic with her accu­sa­tions? she asked. I told her that I wished her sto­ry had been writ­ten on the walls of her room in sil­ver ink so that it would dis­ap­pear into the light of day. 

She told me that she cries every day. Her tears are tears of fear, of dread, but some­times she has tears of the most intense joy she said. She doesn’t think she is depressed. She thinks she is respond­ing to the ter­rors all around us, she said. I told her that I had read in Birds With­out Wings that “The dead can read tears.” She did not respond. Togeth­er as we stood in the for­est, we heard a deaf­en­ing buzzing sound and saw a giant bee­hive block­ing our path. Bees were sud­den­ly every­where — swarm­ing, sting­ing. Don’t kill them, she plead­ed. We need their honey. 

Much lat­er, want­i­ng to share some­thing of myself, I told her about my stu­dio of paint­ings and sculp­tures that I titled Where all the land was sea. We are island peo­ple, I explained. Exiles liv­ing nomadic lives across con­ti­nents and shift­ing seas I told her. Some­times I make ances­tral self-por­traits, I explained. She looked con­fused as I spoke. Some­times I make oil paint­ings like Byzan­tine water, and some­times I make life-sized por­traits of col­or­ful cast glass, like ancient Egypt­ian faiyum por­traits, and faience scarabs, amulets and ham­sas. Light of day or light by lamp can dis­ap­pear their mass I told her.  Oh, I see, she said. Like the exiles them­selves, she said. Yes! They are my lamen­ta­tions for the dead I told her. 

Yes, of course, she said. I sing saudade and duende I explained. Yes, of course, she said. 

No joke the sky is falling! Don’t delude your­self! These words I heard inside page 119 of Rushdie’s Gold­en House. You know, she whis­pered, I am so grate­ful for the inti­ma­cies and hon­esty you share, she said. The time I spend with you helps me feel safe. She wrote this in sil­ver ink inside the shad­ow of Adiche’s pro­file across the stone floor I heard inside page 100 Half of a Yel­low Sun.  

Ch 3

Where are you from? she asked. No, real­ly. Where are you from? 

What are you? she asked. 

I am like you I told her. I am from here. 

Aggres­sion had bro­ken her. Betray­al is an aggres­sive force, she said. Every­thing she believed dis­solved into the light of day. She had evap­o­rat­ed from rage and humil­i­a­tion. Bones, mus­cles. She could not breathe, no sight, no voice, she was no longer. 65 years had passed. 

Why are you so angry? I asked. She looked at me in dis­be­lief. Why are you so angry? she asked. I looked at her in dis­be­lief but I did not respond. 

 

cour­tesy Micaela Amateau Amato


Ch 4 

She told me they lay in each other’s embrace in the dark under the piano in Ella’s liv­ing room. She said she could feel his desire against her body and it was exhil­a­rat­ing. Those were the days we kissed for hours in such sweet plea­sure she said. The world beyond evap­o­rat­ed for us she said. Our erot­ic search­ing with lips and tongues was intense and euphor­ic. Ella and Dave were near­by. She could hear them she said. Sud­den­ly our dream was bro­ken by sounds at the front door she said.  Ella’s moth­er was home. Hide­Please­Quick Ella warned us. Des­per­ate not to be dis­cov­ered he hid his face, throw­ing his arms across his head. Frozen try­ing not to breathe our eyes closed tight­ly pray­ing we would be invis­i­ble in the dark. His pan­ic fright­ened her. She had not rec­og­nized his fear before, she said. Moments lat­er Ella’s moth­er could be heard ascend­ing stairs to rooms above. Dis­trust was not new to him. This sur­vival instinct he car­ries because he is black in a white world she said. That threat he lives I hope is in my clay fig­ures she said. Bent side­ways head low­ered, eyes closed, already invis­i­ble but pray­ing to escape to dis­ap­pear, she said. I feel it in your clay fig­ures I told her. He knows it still I am sure even at 75 years old she said. NoNoNo. He is dead I said. He died in Viet­nam with a medal on his chest “for the Wrongs that need resis­tance.” How could I have for­got­ten, she whispered. 

Ch 5  

Sil­ver sto­ries spi­ral­ing. Frag­ments of words becom­ing sounds in my head. Neon poems unplugged dis­ap­pear in the light of day. Avlar kero i no puedo mi kora­zon sospi­ra. I want to speak I can’t my heart sighs. Like frag­ments of ice on their way to the sea. 

Why is your paint­ed water also earth and wind I asked. Why are they like con­vul­sions of the body I asked. Are they ecsta­t­ic ejac­u­la­tions or death knells I asked. They are radi­ance with no bound­aries. They are beau­ty, mer­cy, splen­dor she said. Every­where is the cen­ter of the uni­verse she said. Yes,Yes, I see that I said. 

Ch 6  

You betrayed our love our dig­ni­ty our future togeth­er so many years ago he told her. I had no choice but to pre­tend we were over she plead­ed. You had a choice he said. Years lat­er I told my fam­i­ly that we had remained togeth­er she said. I don’t believe you he said. They knew me and it was all okay and then they denied us, he said. It was for our safe­ty she said. So many cou­ples were attacked in those days in the streets in their homes fol­lowed and beat­en. Black, brown, and white friends warned my par­ents we were play­ing with fire she said, and they feared for our safe­ty my safe­ty, she said. Their fear was greater than your love for me he said. I dream about our baby she said. You betrayed me he said. I betrayed us she said. 

I don’t want to lose you again now. There was no response. 

Ch 7  

My father was blind she said. Sev­en of nine sib­lings were blind she said. He was a pho­tog­ra­ph­er and made films. I helped him in the dark­room she told me. He was a man with pacien­cia, courage, com­pas­sion, and a wild sense of humor she said. He had rage I said. 

He was a pas­sion­ate read­er and as his blind­ness increased he mem­o­rized his favorite books she said. He told me sto­ries of Hugo LaFontaine Mon­taigne Dumas. Sto­ries of pas­sion, courage and jus­tice she told me. His love for my moth­er was mag­i­cal she said. She had almond eyes he would say. Mer­leOberonEyes he would say. Like Halime’s gazelle eyes I said. Yes. My father was the ancient Turk Ertu­grul she said. I still have his red fez. He trans­lat­ed sto­ries from Turk­ish Ara­bic Span­ish Greek Swahili French Ital­ian, but Eng­lish could not cap­ture the depths of emo­tion of duende and saudade he would say. Do you know about the hakawati? I asked. In Ara­bic it means a sto­ry­teller who weaves a frame tale, a fram­ing nar­ra­tive, a mag­i­cal fable, a hybrid tale, a fusion, a felt­ing, a cross pol­li­nat­ed odyssey so filled with love I told her. 

Ch 8

Tell me a sto­ry she says. 

Breath­less the cur­tain ris­es and I begin. Fly­ing down deep stone steps set so far apart I leap into a dark­ened void and pro­ceed fast and strong through Moor­ish gar­dens, Minoan labyrinths, Mughal courts, Vil­la Lante. Hanu­man is also Han­nah a sci­en­tist physi­cian artist spir­i­tu­al heal­er who can cure burns and bat­tle wounds with amber and rare and com­mon herbs and soothe anguished hearts with music and poet­ry with six legged goats, a bas­ket of cus­tard apples, and twen­ty short legged tat­tu hors­es I tell her. Like ibn Sina I say. Yes Aver­roes we call him she says. 

Could you be alone if he was gone she asked. I will go first I am sure I said. Barbi­nah Mashal­lah Bis­mil­lah you will not she said. Hanu­man had visions of king tides that will rise over lime­stone plateaus from beneath the penin­su­la in the west and up the Adri­at­ic Sea, flood­ing the canals of Venice she said. The wretched poor will become refugees exiles nomads decades before the floods and the arro­gant wealthy will drown in obliv­ion she told me. “Apres moi le del­uge” she said. The para­dox goes unno­ticed she said. The irony does not I said. Coastal ridges sit high above a dan­ger­ous­ly porous under­bel­ly like quick­sand, she said, suc­cumb­ing to that mer­ci­less sea and the arro­gant the mer­ci­less will drown she said. Pajaros en su gar­gan­ta esta­ba sonan­do. Birds in her throat she was dream­ing, she said. 

I don’t remem­ber how it began. I want to remem­ber but I do not. I heard words I nev­er knew she thought nor imag­ined she believes. Has she always? Yes always she has I said.  It should be no sur­prise if I open my eyes. Birds in my throat I was dream­ing. I want to remem­ber but I do not. Please leave she said. I do not care much any­more she said. I do not know you she said. I am released. Birds in my throat she said. 

Ch 9  

Where are you from they would ask look­ing side­ways. I am from here she would say. NoNo where are you real­ly from they would insist. I am Amer­i­can like you she would say. NoNo where were you born. I was born in New York City I was born in Los Ange­les, and in Seat­tle she would say. Ahh­hh, yes, that explains every­thing they would say. They admired and respect­ed her tal­ents but they did not like her. She made them feel strange they would say. She made them feel strange. 

Ch 10 

By the year 1000 our tribe had trav­eled west toward Con­stan­tino­ple from Bagh­dad she said. Words of a new lan­guage were born in my ear from an ancient knowl­edge both male and female, a spir­it and a soul being between, being both, far beyond either she said. We were alja­mas, both Moors and Hebre­os for 700 hun­dred years in Iberia from the Maghreb and then con­ver­soes xue­tas anusim, breath­ing between inqui­si­tion­al life and death. We lived the third inter­val and our ancient pow­ers remade the world across the amber ivory saf­fron porce­lain glass tesser­ae silk routes, con­nect­ing nat­ur­al forces and inter­sect­ing rhi­zomes in the shad­ows of the Upan­ishads, Peo­ples of the Book, Zoroas­tri­ans. Mag­i­cal mate­ri­als merged, alchem­i­cal acci­dents, accre­tions from the earth. Translu­cent emis­sions we real­ized through our fin­ger­tips, a most inti­mate tac­til­i­ty, an inher­ent intel­li­gence and poet­ry in the year 1000, elu­sive if not lost to the 21st cen­tu­ry if not for us, mak­ing human­i­ty in immi­nent dan­ger of becom­ing irrelevant. 

 

BaghdadEgyptianhakawatiidentityIstanbulLos AngelesSalman Rushdie

Micaela Amateau Amato’s mixed media works incorporate painting, photography, sculpture, (neon, cast glass, ceramic) and text. Often engaging forms of self-portraiture and nomadic identities in a dialogue with her Mediterranean ancestry from Iberia, Morocco, Turkey, and Rhodes, Amateau Amato’s work embodies a multiple self that is mediated by her personal and political engagement with diasporic history. The series “Dodecanese Apparitions” combines painted gouache anthropomorphic images seen through photographic transparencies and film negatives. Her current series, “All the land was sea,” uses detritus/wood/clay as reference to eco-suicide and our environmental state of emergency. “La’am = Yes/No Between the Scarab and the Dung Beetle” includes examples from a dozen different series that symbolize a meeting of multiple tribes in dialogue and reconciliation. As cultural nomad, Micaela Amateau Amato is a Professor Emerita of Art and Women’s Studies at Penn State University. She illustrated the book Zazu Dreams Between the Scarab and the Dung Beetle, A Cautionary Fable for the Anthropocene Era, by Cara Judea Alhadeff.