(oil over collage background created from recycled materials)
“You can only be young once. But you can always be immature.”
I painted this portrait of my mother from her photo taken when she was twenty. I’ve always loved that photo. As a little girl I would stare at it for the longest time admiring my mom’s beauty. My mom didn’t really have many photos from her youth. In the Soviet Union most people didn’t have many photos. The only people who had more than a few photos from their childhood and youth were the ones who had an amateur photographer in their family.
Most of us had to settle for a professionally done photo once every few years (if you’re lucky). There must’ve been some kind of a secret formula Soviet studio photographers had to use because the majority of professionally done pictures looked like posthumous daguerreotypes from Victorian England. The subjects photographed always appeared stiff and unsmiling. I guess Soviet citizens were meant to project character and resolve for posterity.
However, my mom’s photo is nothing like that. An admirer of hers was the person responsible for the photo’s nonconformity to the then-accepted standards. My mom’s face is the only thing in the picture, with her large mysterious eyes overpowering all other facial features. Although, she is looking directly at the viewer, her eyes seem to be looking through you, as if she is trying to peek into her own future, not knowing what it will bring. Not scared, just wondering. She doesn’t yet know that the country she lives in is just an illusion and will fall apart from the weight of all the lies. She’s still unaware that she’ll have a little daughter she’ll almost lose after the Chernobyl disaster. My mom is oblivious to the fact she’ll have to take care of both her paralyzed father and her ailing mother. As the photo was taken this young beautiful woman has no clue she would ultimately end up living at the other end of the world.
It’s nice to be young. It’s nice not to know one’s destiny. Youth gives us beautiful uncertainty. And uncertainty equals optimism about the future. Not knowing what lies ahead is what allows us to pursue all kinds of opportunities. Of course, there is also a bit of a Catch-22 involved with this premise… While young people often lack the confidence to go after their dreams, as they become older and have more confidence they often lack the optimism necessary to succeed in their pursuits. I’m very proud of my mother because she is an exception to this paradox. She still goes after her dreams and gives me courage to pursue mine.