BLACK WOMAN: VARIATIONS
The woman in my portraits is a figure who has been following me for a long time.
It was 2014 when I saw her for the first time among the pages of an art book; i became magnetically attracted to her. The caption read “Portrait of a Negro Woman” and I was struck by those words. From that moment on she started becoming a part of me, a quiet and at the same time tormented companion of my inner life.
I tried to find words to explain to myself what painting her means to me , but the more I tried the more confused i got. Finally i realized that what binds us belongs to an intimate sphere of life that words don’t fully know how to express.
Looking at her I see myself, my mother, and going back the whole genealogy of all the women in my family, all the way to all Black women.
The time I spend painting is one of absolute concentration, almost mystical: she is the one who calls to me only when my spirit is ready and my mind is free, pure. She calls on me to paint her: what moves my hands is pure instinct, to the point that I’ll never know what her expression will be until the portrait is finished. This special time when I paint her portrait calls on and gathers all the women partaking of a common history, who have a pain that i too am familiar with. An unspoken family secret, that connects us to each other and is reflected in every portrait, in the face of the same woman, who is always different, yet.
I am certain that background of Ethiopian icon painting was fundamental for me, probably a preparation to encountering this type of portrait.
The state of meditation and religiosity that i am in when I paint testify to this.More to the point, painting her for me is a sacred experience that cannot be accessed at any time, lightheartedly. Every time, you come out of it purged. It’s like a cure and rehabilitation for the woman in the portrait, for a part of me that I am learning to discover, for my mother’s sacrifices and the lives of all the other women.
The other big influence comes from my native country , Eritrea, which, actually, is all one thing with the influences I spoke of before, as though it were a circle of correspondences in which I find – women – the mother – the motherland – icons – spirituality.
I am really attached to this portrait: it’s not something that i can separate from myself, it’s me entering the painting and she who enters me. In her eyes I see all my ancestral mothers / my history / our history, and every time she reveals a new secret to me, or rather, she whispers a mystery that is yet to be unveiled. The chiaroscuro contrast in the image is an accomplice. When I look at the black side, far from perceiving it as something negative, I re-discover the part that is buried, almost a subs-conscious that I cannot access, completely, I see my doubts, my fears as well as my roots, the source of my strength.
The light in the painting seems to move and very gradually illuminate the whole face, a symbol of the constant shifting from what is revealed to what is hidden, from the inner to the outer, because nothing stays inside, nothing stays outside, because what is inside is outside.
Viviana Zorzato was born in Asmara (Eritrea) , from an Eritrean mother and an Italian father. She lives in Padua . Besides painting, she works on restoration of wooden art work and reproduces icons of Ethiopian religious art. She makes wooden puppets and organizes children’sshows .
Giorgia Ragana (Viviana Zorzato’s daughter) studies philosophy at the University of Padua and attends the International School of Comics. She works as a barman and a model.
Translated from Italian by Pina Piccolo.