Carolle Benitah’s Photos-Souvenirs is a lyrical reminisce on memory, childhood and family. It is a sentimental book that makes me ache. The experiences, while exclusively Benitah’s, are ones that sound a painful chord on the unfinished sentences, unexpressed affections and tender sensitivities that bind families together as much as they sometimes separate them. The Moroccan-born artist who currently lives in Marseille, France, explores her history through family archive photographs where she sews and embroiders over the images with red, black and gold threads and in some cases, superimposes the images with wire and glass beads: “With each stitch I make a hole with a needle. Each hole is a putting to death of my demons. It’s like an exorcism. I make holes in paper until I am not hurting anymore,” Benitah writes. The work moved me deeply for its honesty and complexity. This is clearly a meditative act for Benitah on the threads that tie the beginnings and endings of family relationships and the intricacies in between.
The use of color in Photos-Souvenirs is with purpose. Red plays a leading role. This vibrant yet deviant of all colors showcases its warring spectrums between love and hate, pain and joy, life and death. I carefully look at the images, some closer than others, as some images float on the white pages as though they are drifting memories. My eyes hunt across the page to find the beginning and ending of borders, to recollect the memory in order to grasp the story. The works are ambiguous. They are riddled with questions whose answers only the author can disclose. I feel this is Benitah’s invitation to bring my own interpretation into her intimate experience of these works. As I flip through the pages, reds depart into blacks which shift into yellows, subtly mimicking the threads in Benitah’s embroidery and gracefully taking me from black and white photographs to more recent memories of color. The only hint of words in Photos-Souvenirs is in Benitah’s needled letters across the bottom of images, but mostly, words come at the end in the form of six lines of text lingering on a black page like a dogged memory refusing to fade away.
The unfortunate downfall of Photos-Souvenirs is the choice of paper, which I find neither compliments the tactile sensibility of the content nor does it reflect the delicate nature of its experience. The pages are difficult to flip through because of the card-stock quality of the paper, making my journey through the work one of disruption rather than harmony. I hope this is an intended design feature as a metaphor of Benitah’s emotional involvement creating this work rather than a consequence of production values being sacrificed in the face of reasonable printing costs.
Laura El-Tantawy / April, 2017