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Portrait of My Mother

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Portrait Of My Mother
Portrait Of My Mother Pencil on Paper by Guru Kaur

"It's not very flattering, is it, as a portrait of your mother" said the man standing next to me as we both looked, somewhat dazed and confused, at Juan Gris' Portrait of Artist's Mother painted when he was at the height of his Cubist phase.

And yet, within that major Cubism retrospective of the early 1980s it is that painting which most got me thinking about the relationship between the artist and his subject, his subject and her beauty, the painter and his projections, the viewer and the work of art now hung on a gallery wall, framed and insured for millions and millions.  "Your mother wouldn't like it if you painted her like that" he continued, with the sure knowledge only a husband can have.

It was unlikely at the time because I didn't draw; that was my mother's dream, for her to go to art school.  Some twenty odd years later though I did have the opportunity of creating a portrait of my mother.  

It was a blissful sunny day and it seemed foolhardy not to walk round to her flat and wheel her along the river and through the urban woodland.  On the way, she asked if she could come over to see the sanctuary of my little City garden.  We came back here and she sat in the conservatory admiring the blossoming of the roses, their heady scent touching a part of her brain which allowed her to travel through time and find words which we always felt for sure ought to be in the Oxford English Dictionary and never were.  Of all the many, many hours I spent with her, both in my childhood, youth and then as a grown-up caring for her, it is this moment that most sums up our relationship.  In those ten minutes or so that I sketched her, anticipating the full painting with the flowers behind, I understood how deep the gift is that a mother can give her child.  

The seismic brain haemorrhage she suffered 16 years ago was in many ways a stroke of genius.  She simply changed the entire landscape of all those around her.  As my father said at the time "I never thought that things like this would ever happen to a family like ours".   No longer did we deal in the trivia of family life; our discussions became about life and death.   

Last night those questions faded with her last breath as she finally released herself from this physical world.  

While sitting last week in the BBC's basement studio waiting to be interviewed live I had a flashback to a similar wait in a small room to hear the prognosis of the doctor examining my mother that first night of the stroke: she may not make it through the night.  When I came on air, Sonia asked me what was the moment when my life changed and I talked about how when I had arrived at the hospital as my mother was convulsing in pain as the paralysis was invading her body she looked at me and said "I am not ready to die yet; I haven't lived my life."  You can listen to the full interview here.  

In the years that followed I have learnt to face many adversities, death included, but also seen how my mother, and life itself, became a reflection, just as a work of art might, to reveal people's preconceptions, prejudices, distastes for disability.   I saw how people often don't like to be reminded of their own mortality, their own weaknesses, that there's more to life than what they see.  

Attitudes have changed considerably in the intervening years: a recent Act of Parliament defines disability as an experience of barriers.  On that basis we are all disabled, whether it's mental, emotional, physical or even financial.  

For me, that is the greatest gift that she gave me: to challenge preconceptions and to live life to the full.  

May she rest in peace.  

 

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With love, blessings, gratitude,
Gracefully,
Guru Kaur x