An image, less than a memory but more than a feeling, lingers. A woman runs rosary beads between her fingers. A mother and daughter laugh hysterically to the point of tears. Two hands intertwine. These simple yet vivid vignettes reveal something akin to muscle memory, where intellect and biology falter, and intuition and magic take over. “It is impossible for language to fully articulate the experience of magic,” and so the body and art represent what cannot otherwise be expressed (Photography Is Magic, 2015).
I have long felt a deep connection to the art of Erika DeFreitas. It embodies what I have always struggled to communicate: the fear of losing my mother. This deep-rooted anxiety that many of us share stems from the intimate overlaps between togetherness and separation, longing and letting go.
This solo exhibition focuses on lens-based artworks DeFreitas has made over the last five years, many of which feature her mother, whom she has been working with as a subject for more than a decade. The collection of photographs, video, and works on paper illuminates recurring themes in her practice, through which DeFreitas interweaves the personal and the historical. She touches upon her own cultural histories, connected to her matrilineal Guyanese heritage and Catholic background, while turning to cultural figures like Gertrude Stein and Carrie Mae Weems, as well as the many unnamed female subjects of art history.
Hands and the body – symbols of care and of labour – reoccur throughout the exhibition, as DeFreitas asserts the agency of a racialized and gendered body in art, revealing both strength and vulnerability, trauma, and joy. These threads are all connected by the artist’s continual search for “all that is left out of the frame,” using the body as vessel to hold what might otherwise be out of reach.