Amalia Covered in a Play Blanket Janice Prendergast
Artist and Art Professor
Nassau Community College
When our eyes met, Amelia was standing alone in shy silence surrounded by the buzz of the busy disabled children in the makeshift art room I worked at in the Fundacion Pediatrica in Guatemala City. Major burns and muscular deformities had stolen the innocence of the mostly Maya children. And that day, that Sunday after traveling 7 hours from the highlands to Guatemala City, these brave, resilient children would be screened for hand and limb surgery or hand therapy by the doctors and hand therapists who donate their time and skills for the Guatemala Healing Hands Foundation located in Brooklyn NY.
It was clear as rain that Amelia was pure traditional Maya. She had the searching sad eyes and enigmatic smile, she spoke only Maya, no Spanish, and she wore the huipile (blouse) of her father’s community and the skirt of her mother’s. The hand-woven threads with vivacious colors fused to create patterns of ancient Maya symbols in their fabrics. Amelia’s colors in her dress burst forward but her being remained hidden. Continue reading
Last February, at a Joyce Maynard writing workshop in San Marcos, Guatemala, I would ask the Mayan villagers: Puedo tomar una foto? But it wasn’t enough just to know how to speak the phrase. The much-photographed Maya turned their faces away from the camera—a hand up, palm out, fingers splayed. I had a new camera and fumbled with changing lenses, working with the longer 70mm, so that I could shoot from a distance. But even one early morning, when I stood on the beach, a lone fisherman, a mile or two out from shore in his canoe, saw me aiming that lens toward him and waved me off.
Just two days before I left to return to Long Island, I thought to hire one of the Jovenes Maya, young tour guides, to walk around the barrios with me, introduce me to people and, sometimes, stand so that it appeared I was photographing him when the camera was really aimed at a nearby subject. While it was frustrating at first, not to be able to work close-up and direct, I began to be interested in their insistence on remaining unknowable. And then I started to look for that mystery.
In the smoky image above, there is only a hint of the faces of the villagers in this Lenten procession-the indigo and purple dress blurred by the whirl of incense. I’ve posted several images from this series on the portfolio page here, but you can view them up close, October 24th–26th and October 31st, November 1st and 2nd, in the Energy Interpreted art exhibit, at the Bay Area Friends of Fine Arts gallery on Gillette Avenue in Sayville, NY. The show is an exhibit presented by Women Sharing Art. The artworks were printed at Indian HIll Imageworks in Vermont by master printer, Stephen Schaub–hand coated surface on Bergger COT-320 printed on a d’Vinci Printing Solution (12 Color).