Imagined Worlds Turned Inside Out: The Power of Helen Levitt’s Child Co-Creators

“New York c. 1945” by Helen Levitt

A group of young girls are strolling down the sidewalk on a hot summer day in New York; all at once, their four heads turn, and they gaze with equal interest at a series of shiny spherical objects that seem to be floating along the wall. Nobody has initiated the gaze; nobody is gesturing towards the objects or checking to see if her friends noticed them too. It’s as though the objects themselves demanded all four girls’ attention at once. The viewer of this photograph will therefore become curious as well, and pay greater attention to the bubbles than she would have if the children weren’t in the frame. Each bubble has part of its edge resting against the border between two or more bricks. If these objects are soap bubbles that are simply floating along, then Levitt has captured them while they are all in a state of in-between; none of them float in the centre of a single brick. If they are not soap bubbles, they could also be glass spheres embedded in the brick, like underwater windows on a ship, which offer a glimpse into the underground world beneath the road. The photograph allows for both possibilities, and each creates a mystery. If the objects are glass spheres, then who put them there, and what is their function? If they are soap bubbles, then where is the soap bubble blower, and how have they survived for so long without popping?

The girls’ synchronization is what causes our interest, not the objects themselves. If Helen Levitt had chosen to photograph the wall and the glass spheres without the children, the image wouldn’t be interesting because we wouldn’t stop to see them as anything other than bubbles against brick. But when we notice what the children are noticing, we start to see things the way they do. Levitt’s child subjects become a conduit for the adult viewer’s own imagination, we ask ourselves: do they see everlasting soap bubbles, a coded message, or tiny portals into other worlds? Since we are unable to ask them what they see, and wouldn’t want to break the spell of their imagination anyways, we return to our own imaginations for answers.

Implicit in the taking and viewing of this photograph is the creation of three different imaginary worlds layered on top of one another. The first is the children’s imaginary world that has been activated by the bubbles; this creation occurred during the actual moment when the photograph was taken. The second is Helen Levitt’s imaginary world, which was born when she chose to remove this moment from its temporal context by capturing it in a photograph; a photograph can tell a narrative that is entirely separate from the reality it was captured in, and in doing so it becomes its own fictional world. Finally, there is a new imaginary world built into the mind of the viewer as she thinks about what the children might be imagining. Whether she is aware of her imagination being activated or not, the viewer will unconsciously become a creator too. This collaboration between child-subject, photographer, and viewer recurs in Levitt’s work, and keeps the viewer oscillating between the three imagined worlds as an unknowing participant in the artistic act.

In her article, “Helen Levitt and the camera,” critic Elizabeth Gand argues that Levitt uses children to explore the ways in which art gets made. “If she engaged so deeply with children, it was because of what they allowed her to say… Her pictures conceive children’s play as the foundation of artistic production; they are portraits of the artist as a young child.” Levitt reveals the creative process by representing children who are at play: transforming the ordinary world into something fantastical. By capturing the four girls in a synchronized moment of wonder, she shows us the moment when a detail from the real world can tip the artist-as-child into her imagination. She also reveals what might be missing from regular adult observation. The four girls are naturally drawn to the bubbles, which an adult or non-artist might pass without taking a second glance. By seeing what the children are looking at, we might also see the absence of the curiosity we once had as children. Fredrick Wiseman’s statement about his reaction to one of Levitt’s photographs is applicable to many of her works. “I like this photograph because it makes me ask myself these silly questions when I, of course, have no idea what either these children or Helen Levitt were thinking and can only project my fantasies onto this photograph.” The activation of the adult imagination is a major part of Levitt’s intention. As a statement about art-making, “New York c 1945” advocates for the careful observation of the subtle oddities that are present in the regular world. Inside a bubble, the artist might find a universe, the way a child does.

“New York, 1940.” By Helen Levitt

The child’s imagination could be considered a universal theme or topic of interest, but Levitt chooses to situate her work in specific communities. Her subjects often come from the margins, but she escapes the trap of using them to make overt sociopolitical commentaries; instead, her photography allows for ambiguity. For example, in the photograph “New York, 1940,” Levitt depicts two black children absorbed in their own internal worlds. The girl’s hair has not been combed, her clothes are rumpled and she has her arms crossed in a self-comforting or protective gesture. The boy is sitting on the ground at the threshold between inside and outside space. Both children seem to be waiting for something. But if they seem vulnerable it is because of our assumptions about their circumstances, not because they are performing vulnerability to us or because the photograph has captured them in a moment of weakness. I would argue that both children exude a kind of power. Both of them are gazing out, but don’t seem to be looking at anything in particular; they have left their circumstances behind for a moment. They have the power to leave the real world while they wait.

Walker Evans once called Levitt’s photography anti-journalism. Her photos cannot be read with one single narrative and they are not a call to action or a cry for social justice. Her subjects are often unconcerned with the photographer’s presence, and the photographs themselves seem unconcerned with what the viewer might take from them. However, while Levitt’s work maintains ambiguity and resists simple political readings, it is also not a-political. Scholar Lorraine Sim argues, “her photography undoubtedly assumes a politics in the sense that it focuses on poor neighbourhoods, the working classes, women and children, and often African-American and immigrant subjects—and in ways that depart from stereotypical representations of these groups.” Levitt is making a choice to photograph the marginalized, but she does not use the individuals she is photographing to tell a story of marginalization. When we look at the photographs today, they can become documentary in the sense that they portray groups that were not part of the mainstream narrative at the time. Scholar Alison Dean argues that today, “we can begin to re-frame her practice in terms of questions of visibility and invisibility that are central not only to the way we see Levitt, but also the way (and the fact that) we can also see her subjects.” Visibility is not a-political; at the same time, we should not over-use it in our readings of specific photographs.

In “New York c. 1945,” three black children and one white child walk together and notice bubbles at exactly the same moment. This group could surprise a contemporary viewer, who might not have expected black children and white children to play together on the street in the 1940s. In his article, critic Alan Trachtenberg points out Levitt’s ability to reject stereotype by portraying marginalized people as, “neither victims nor impossible heroes, her subjects appear as themselves. It’s a breathtaking achievement, an artist taking poor people entirely on their own terms.” The friendship between the four girls is not made heroic or sentimental, it simply exists. Levitt’s choice to photograph this moment normalizes the girls’ relationship rather than twisting it to fit an agenda. Yet our imagination of that time period could cause us to see this group as an oddity, and construct a racially-motivated message in the photograph that isn’t really there. It would be easy to misread the children’s grouping and synchronized head-turning as Levitt’s way of suggesting that racial harmony exists in the children’s world in opposition to a racially divided adult world. But she is never saccharine in her depiction of childhood, and this photograph does not suggest that the children are free from their sociopolitical reality: instead, it allows the real world to exist in the frame. The girls are penned in by a high wall and we cannot see the sidewalk ahead of them, so we have no way of knowing what things will be like when they pass through this moment. If there is a story about race that is being told through this image, it is not as simple or sweet as: look at the magic of interracial friendships.

The composition of the photograph draws a parallel between the girls and the bubbles, which are both captured during a time of transition. The bubbles are all crossing from one brick to the next while the girls walk on the transitory space of a sidewalk, which acts as a fault line between a road and a row of buildings. The bubbles also seem to be floating along and the girls are all captured mid-stride. The parallel between the children and the bubbles suggests that the children are fragile too. They exist in a world where it seems to be a small miracle that they have not popped yet. While the children are mobile, the photograph slices through mobility by splitting the distant car in half, cropping out their future walking space, and showing a horizon with no openness. It seems that eventually the children will reach a dead-end, and will need to turn around. Even if they reach the wider world that is shown in the top right corner, it is a place with no sky: only buildings layered on buildings. This crowdedness creates a kind of simmering anxiety, even in the magic of the moment. Race, class and gender all play a part in Levitt’s photographs because they are a part of the real world, which children inhabit too. Despite their harsh realities, she captures children from all socioeconomic groups when they are at their most powerful. She sees when they are engrossed in the small mysteries of the real world, which they are uniquely equipped to see, and she captures them at the precipice between reality and imagination. When we start to wonder what they are seeing, we slip down the cracks of our own imaginations too.

Many critics have suggested that Levitt’s photography is “artless,” and “style-less.” They see it as emblematic of the “white style,” meaning she has a “fully automatic, active collaboration with chance.” While her photography must be spontaneous, since it is not posed or artificially constructed, I would argue that it is also not captured at random. Greater emphasis should be placed on the subtle complexity of her composition and the choices that she is making rather than her spontaneity and seeming invisibility. Critic Sandra Phillips uses “New York 1940,” to point out the subtle effect of Levitt’s different cropping. In an earlier print of the photo, the two children exist in a “wide sea of space surrounding the central figure,” but later editions crop that space down, “usually the effect is one of more mystery and psychological content.” Levitt also uses recurring motifs in the creation of an aesthetic. For example, her child subjects are almost always occupying liminal space. Three boys crouch on a front stoop: a space that is both public and private because it is owned by whoever owns the building but is also visible to the outside world. A boy hangs onto a doorframe: half in one room and half in another. Another boy squats in a corner, nestled between the sculpture of a lion and a window into a restaurant or café. This recurrence of a type of space is not a stroke of luck, but an aesthetic choice. Levitt also chooses to allow the children’s surroundings into the frame, to give context without allowing the surroundings to dominate the subjects. The way her subjects choose to behave: their postures, movements and facial expressions may be up to chance, but everything else about her work is artfully constructed.

Levitt is making choices to create an aesthetic experience, yet she also resists the creation of a single narrative or journalistic message. Her often impoverished subjects appear as powerful creators; there is no condescension or sentimentality or judgement being passed about them or their circumstances, which is impressive when so many well-meaning pieces of work about marginalized groups fall into those traps. But the absence of her opinion about her subjects does not mean that Levitt is absent from the photographs. Through her aesthetics, she allows her subjects to teach her viewers a new way of seeing. There is power in leaving the real world behind for an imagined one, and it’s a power that the viewer discovers when she wonders what the children are making out of the world around them.

Works Cited
Dean, Alison. “The Invisible Helen Levitt.” Performance Matters 2.2 (2016).
Gand, Elizabeth “Helen Levitt (1913-2009) and the Camera.” American Art Vol. 23 No. 3, pp 98-102. The University of Chicago Press, 2009.
Handy, Ellen. “Helen Levitt: Childhood as Performance, City as Theatre.” The Lion and the Unicorn (2001).
Philipps, Sandra S. “Helen Levitt’s Cropping.” History of Photography (1993).
Sante, Sue; Kleinzahler, August; Eggers, Dave; Malamud-Smith, Janna; Wiseman, Frederick; Pemberton, Gayle; Weschler, Lawrence, “Symposium on Helen Levitt” The Threepenny Review (2001).
Sim, Lorraine. Ordinary Matters Modernist Women’s Literature and Photography. Bloomsbury Academic (2016).
Trachtenberg, Alan, “Seeing What You See: Photographs by Helen Levitt.” Raritan.

References
Hellman, Roberta; Hoshino, Marvin. “The Photographs of Helen Levitt.” The Massachusetts Review (1978).
Levitt, Helen; Agee, James. A Way of Seeing. Horizon Press (1981).

MOM CAVE

“Mom has been acting a little strange lately. We can all agree.”

Suzanne stood on the talking stool in the centre of the treehouse. The talking stool had three legs and wobbled dangerously if you didn’t spread your weight right, but when you stood on it, nobody dared to interrupt you. It was for serious business, and in a house with six kids, sometimes you needed to take a risk to be heard.

Suzanne was still wearing her school uniform, and one of her pigtails had come out, giving her a dangerous, unkempt air. She was standing under the flashlight we’d hung with a shoelace from the ceiling and it cast dramatic shadows across her face as it twirled. The second-youngest kid, Arthur, was a little afraid of her, so he was hiding behind the frayed curtain that covered a big crack in the wall. The baby burbled stupidly in the corner. The rest of us sat in a circle around her, on upended crates that had once been filled with apples. Suzanne was one of the middle children, but she had the respect of even the eldest, because she could talk like a grown up. Most of us murmured our agreement, there was something different about Mom.

“Hmm, I don’t know. Is she really acting that weird?”

That was David, another middle child. David had wispy hair and watery eyes, and he liked to say the unpopular opinion, but was always surprised when we beat him up for it, or locked him out of meetings. Suzanne gave him a withering look.

“You’re stupider than the baby if you haven’t noticed a change. Haven’t you seen her, walking out to the car at night and just sitting, locked in there for hours? Or that she comes home later and later each evening, smelling like beer?”

If any of us had failed to notice those things, we weren’t about to admit it. We nodded along. Suzanne seemed to grow taller.

“And haven’t you seen her going down to the basement with tape-measures and IKEA magazines? Do any of you realize what she’s up to?”

“Maybe she’s finally building us a play-room?”

“She’s putting the baby’s room down there?”

“She’s buying more bookshelves?”

Suzanne held up a hand, and we all stopped talking.

“I heard her talking on the phone to Marissa Claire.”

We groaned. Marissa Claire watched us all from under her pencil-thin pointy eyebrows whenever she came to visit. She was always making jokes about how nobody could’ve convinced her to have so many kids.

Suzanne continued, “Mom is creating a Mom-Cave downstairs. We won’t be allowed down there anymore. It’s going to be a space just for Moms or Marissa Claires.”

We all stared at her. This was news. Mom wanted a cave? Why?

“I have a theory,” she said, “I’ve been reading and I think Marissa Claire is a vampire.”

Under the dangling flashlight, with the sun already set and the wind gently tugging the October branches, Suzanne looked deadly serious. I felt myself shiver; someone coughed. Arthur sprang out from behind the curtain and leapt straight into the eldest’s lap, almost knocking him over.

“There’s no such thing as vampires, is there?” he asked in his warbling four-year-old voice.

But the eldest simply looked to Suzanne for the answer.

“I know you’re afraid of me, Arthur,” she said, “but you’re old enough to know now. I’m not what you should be afraid of.”

We all watched her with wide eyes.

“Marissa Claire isn’t our biggest problem either. The reason Mom is acting so strange, is because she’s slowly becoming a vampire too.”

Now that was harder to believe. Mom, our Mom? The same Mom who taught us to ride bikes and tie our shoes? Who went to our parent-teacher nights and coached our soccer games? 

Suzanne continued,“Think about it. What else needs a cave but a bat? What else goes out at night, and hangs out in dingy places looking for prey? Mom is under a curse, and once she builds the Mom-cave, the transformation will be complete.”

“What should we do?” I whispered.

“We have to reverse the curse. And banish Marissa Claire from the house forever. And most of all, we can’t let the Mom-Cave be built.”

The next day, Marissa Claire came over, and she and Mom sat in the living room with stacks of paint swatches and home decorating magazines. Us kids were supposed to be watching TV, but we took turns spying on them instead.

“It’s going to be so great to get away from the old nag once your basement is finished. You know I’m going to be hiding out here all the time,” Marissa Claire said.

“Yeah, I mean, I think I deserve a little recognition. It’ll be nice.”

“Women need to be able to be women, even in a family.”

Marissa Claire handed Mom a rolled-up poster. She unrolled it halfway, and I saw the naked torso of a very muscular man in a firefighter uniform over her shoulder. My mouth dropped open. 

Mom gasped, “Missy! You’re terrible. You know my husband would throw a fit.” 

Mom tried to push the poster back into the woman’s hands.

“Well, who says he’s allowed down there? It’s supposed to be your space.”

I raced upstairs to report back to my siblings.

“It’s time for phase one,” Suzanne said.

We asked Mom if we could go to the playground, and trooped out of the house soon after. Mom didn’t make sure we wore scarves, even though it was a chilly day, so the feeling in our little group was morose. The eldest zipped our jackets up to our chins, and insisted that David wore a hat, but it wasn’t the same. Luckily, Mom didn’t ask us to bring the baby.

We arrived at the church, and Suzanne passed us each a Tupperware before she walked up to the front and tugged on the door. It was locked. We split up, each looking for a door or window that would allow us inside. David found it and we all raced over to a stained-glass window that was slightly ajar. Suzanne pushed it all the way open, and we tumbled inside one-by-one. We hadn’t been to church since last Easter, and I was immediately hit by the familiar heavy-perfume-and-dust smell that seeped up from the carpets.

“Find the Holy Water and the free rosaries!” Suzanne ordered.

We knew that the church gave out white plastic rosaries sometimes, and assumed they would be up for grabs somewhere. The Holy Water was easy to find, it was in a big bowl at the front of the church, for dipping your hand into. We each filled our Tupperware until the bowl was empty. The rosaries were a challenge though.

“We need them, to tie Mom up and reverse the curse,” Suzanne insisted.

We split up and looked everywhere, on each pew, in the supply closets and under the kneelers. I decided to check the altar. I climbed the steps and checked beside the mic stand, and then under the white cloth. Then I saw the gold box where they kept the communion. There probably weren’t any rosaries in there, but I decided to open it, it couldn’t hurt to check.

“Stop! Thief!” a voice boomed through the church.

We all tried to scatter. David dove under a pew, Arthur shimmied behind the statue of Mother Mary, the eldest shut himself in a supply closet and I sprinted for the open window. Only Suzanne stayed calm.

“We’re not stealing. We’re looking for the free rosaries.”

So, the priest sat us down, and we told him all about the Mom Cave and our vampire theory.

“This sounds very serious. You kids were right to come to the church, you’re not safe.”

My heart sank. So, it was true.

“We’re planning on tying her up with rosaries and sprinkling her with Holy Water,” Suzanne said.

The priest nodded his approval, “I can see you’ve done your research.”

Suzanne was right. Mom was turning into a monster.

The priest gave each of us a rosary and sent us home with the reminder to pray more often.

A few nights later, Suzanne woke me up and we slipped away from the others to watch Mom through the front window. She had a suitcase with her, even though there was no trip planned that we knew about. We watched her load the suitcase into the back of the car, turn it on, and sit inside without driving.

For some reason, my eyes were filling up with tears, “Why doesn’t she just go?”

“That suitcase is full of Marissa Claire’s mind-controlling tokens. Mom is just trying to get rid of them,” Suzanne assured me in a whisper.

Another voice spoke before I could, “Or maybe it’s full of empty vials of blood, because she’s already a vampire.”

David was standing behind us in his rumpled pyjamas. Something about his pouty mouth and stupid slippers made me angry. I lunged for him, but Suzanne held me back.  

“We have to be strong,” she said.

“We should have done the ritual sooner. What are we waiting for?” I snapped.

“Tomorrow, it’s a harvest moon,” Suzanne said.  

Phase two of the plan was capturing and overpowering Mom, tying her down with rosaries and sprinkling her with Holy Water. But things did not go according to plan. That morning, Dad went off to work as usual while Mom made breakfast. We were all supposed to go to school, so we walked to the bus stop with our backpacks, but as soon as Mom drove off with the baby we snuck back inside the house. It was time to create the trap.

I can’t tell you exactly how the trap was supposed to work, it came right out of Suzanne’s imagination, but it involved laundry baskets, Christmas lights and white sheets. She ordered us around for an hour, assembling it, and then we heard footsteps approaching. Someone rang the doorbell. Did Mom forget her keys? Did she know we were at home? Arthur wandered over to the door, despite our collective “Noooo,” and opened it.

A man in a bright yellow polo shirt was standing at the door. He glanced into the chaos inside our house, and smiled brightly at Arthur.

“Is your Mommy or Daddy home?”

Arthur quaked with terror at his mistake. We could all hear Suzanne’s mind whirring with fury.

“I’m here to deliver some furniture. Hello? Is there an adult home?”

One wrong step from the IKEA man could spring the whole trap. Suzanne popped out from her hiding spot, causing the man to jump.

“She wants it all on the front lawn.”

“The front…?”

 “You heard me.”

The man must have recognized the same dangerous power in her that we had, because he unloaded everything onto the front lawn, and had her sign for it even though she barely reached his elbow in height.

“This stuff must all be for the Mom Cave,” the eldest said.  

“We’ve got to get rid of it!” Suzanne raced onto the lawn, beckoning to the rest of us “quickly, we have to take it to the pond and sink it.”

We dragged the red wagon out from the garage and got to work stacking the boxes on top. It was heavy work, but if Mom came home and IKEA was on the front lawn she would know something was wrong. Once we had stacked it all, we wheeled it carefully down the driveway.

Mom was standing on the sidewalk, holding the baby. Her car was parked a little bit away. For a moment, we stared at her, and she stared back at us.

“What are you all doing? Why aren’t you at school?”

 We were caught. It was over.

 “What is all of that stuff? Is that… is that my IKEA order? What on earth?”

David started to cry. The eldest picked up Arthur, who buried his face in his jacket sleeve. I could’ve sworn Mom’s teeth were so long that they were poking the top of her lip. Mom wiped her cheek with her sleeve. Had she been drinking blood, and she was trying to wipe it away? Only Suzanne remained calm.

“We thought they probably delivered to the wrong house, you know how sometimes the neighbour gets our mail,” she said.

Mom’s face became a mask of fury.

“That doesn’t explain why you aren’t in school.”

None of us could explain that, and none of us could explain the mess we’d made inside. Mom identified Suzanne as our ringleader, probably because we kept glancing at her for instructions.

“Suzanne, I should’ve known. Go upstairs and wait for me on my bed. The rest of you had better help me clean all of this up.” Mom said.

Without Suzanne, we didn’t know how to use the trap. Mom made us bring the IKEA boxes downstairs, and put everything back where we’d found it. Worst of all, she found the Tupperware’s full of Holy Water under our beds, and rosaries stashed in the bathroom cabinet. When we didn’t answer what they were for, she dumped the water down the sink and tossed the rosaries into the trash, then locked us in our rooms. That evening, Mom didn’t make us dinner and we could hear her and Marissa Claire playing loud music in the basement while they assembled the Mom Cave. I looked out my window at the harvest moon, which glowed orange while my stomach growled. Someone unlocked my door. It was Suzanne. Everyone else was standing behind her, and she was even holding the baby.

“It’s time to go. We tried our best,” she said. 

We were about to reach the front door when we heard Dad’s heavy footsteps behind us.

“What are you kids up to?”

We looked at him over our shoulders and said, “Nothing!”        

He shrugged and wandered into the kitchen, probably looking for a snack, wondering when it was time for dinner.

Photograph by Edward Steichen

Cork

Snakes are fingers, snipped off. Dangling from the car window, when a truck speeds past or with a whoosh, the window lazily slices shut. The fingers, snipped off, roll down the side of the road, curving past the tires, tumbling through the rocks and foliage. Sometimes separated, scattered, villaged, unmethodically grouped, the finger stubs nestle into the dirt. Nurtured by pests, driven out by boredom, snakes emerge. An important decision weighs on their bald little heads– where does their passion lie? Strangulation, spitting, making tiny hollow eggs, scratching scales on bark, mimicking the voice of the croaky seen-it-all rogue character from daytime television? To see more of themselves, doubled, tripled, heaped in full piles seemed to be the usual choice of ambition, although tedious and morally messy.

Then a kid rolled down. The snakes came together in a crowd and asked, “But where are your fingers?” The kid pressed two stubs together. He’d gotten it confused, done it the whole other way around. Spinning and jostling around in the back, off his fingers went, in the faded maroon sedan. Oh, well, the snakes had that thing – patience. They had seen it in a roll of paper that also said ‘hospitale’ and on the exposed backside of a hurried man dressed in red and mint. The snakes, perhaps unanimously, or perhaps one or two of them gone rogue, said, “We’ll wait for his ends to grow back.” Then, right after, “When do trees know when to branch off? What if they continue on, unbent?” The snakes asked together, to each other. A rosy one swayed off-beat, glided away.

Between whiles, the snakes watched, carefully lathering the uneven crown of the kid’s hand in spit, pushing crushed leaves into the kid’s mouth. The kid was worried he’d sweep the floor with his new arms, he had liked them at pocket-length.The bronze-y snake most in charge of the kid’s empty fist coiled around the wrists, its own snake body hanging limply off the ground.

At some point, something small and soft thumped against the kid’s heels. Turning at the hips, the kid carefully observed the fresh finger. “Tadpole,” the kid said. The finger buried itself into the ground without further flair.

Yanked back around, the kid faced the bronze-y snake whose tail now flicked on the dirt, before slowly and surely fixing itself around the trunk of a tree.

It wasn’t for nothing. Although, half of it was. The kid was pleased to note that his arms did not stretch or drag, just hung in empty fists, swinging around from time to time. “Well, you’ve got to do something,” the snakes would say with their eyes and the tenseness of their necks; their mouths were close to dry from trying to nurture the kid.

There was another thump at the heel, followed by a weak squish. “You owe us,” the snakes said, as an ensemble or one by one.
So, the kid ambled along, parallel to the road. There was no waiting on the job, not that a break was warranted. Within moments, stretched out hours, the kid would find a plump bunch that formed along a small dip. Bending down and clasping them with the elbows, they would be gathered and transported. “Spaghetti,” kid said as the fingers squirmed their way out. Some time would pass. Kid’s chin was awfully good at rolling the fingers along the ground, deeper into the forest, back to softer soil.

At nighttime, a muddy, childish face was nuzzled and climbed by worn out snakes. It was as if the kid was a soft, smooth rock. Even staying very still, some would stagger, plummet, nosedive, fall down. The soil let out a quelch. This all gave the kid an idea.

“Home,” kid expressed, spread out close to the trees. The little ones got the message and blindly crawled their way in the dark, torpeding, carving, diving, or something gentler, sinking. The little nooks of his skin, once off-putting, became inviting. In the morning the snakes formed a crowd and said, “a baby person is perfectly porous for that kind of occupation.”

“You can stop here.”

The man was bleeding still. The woman stopped dragging him across the forest floor, to breathe. Mouth agape, she pressed her five fingers together slowly, condensing them as closely as she could, bringing them to her face.

“Shut it, stop it,” the bleeding one said, “thought I told you.”

The woman looked down. With one small movement, her fingers edged beneath the mint smock, dipped into the small wound at the man’s hip. Then, with great zeal, she edged in her wrist.

A gust of air, the wind’s tail crept along the man’s face. He shifted his neck away from the dancing grass and sighed weakly.

“Good for you,” the woman told him. The last of her sleeve was vanishing inside. “A pit-shaped pit,” she said. She looked up from that inconvenient angle, gazing mostly into the dark underside of the man’s chin. “They’re on their way, I can’t stop now.”

The man that was leaking shut his eyes, regretfully.

“Why don’t colors mix? In real life,” she said. The mint green was opening up, the red was coating it completely. “This doesn’t even look like a gown, why is it called a gown? Patient smock.”

A squelching noise, the woman shimmied her shoulder into it.

“Easy,” the man’s gritted teeth told her.

Rustling in the forest, a group of five others found their way again, but the woman was gone. Only the tip of a finger stuck out of the man’s left hip. The leaking, bleeding man let out a sigh. Taking off the first layer of their medicine uniforms, they followed suit, one by one slowly sinking. A commotion of expanding, shrinking, elbows nudging, a staticky something, and muffled apologies. It was almost all worth it, the man was thinking, for the look on the last man’s face. Swirling around, churning, cuffed around the neck, eyes rolling and rolling, fitfully and gracefully jostling.

Artwork by Matt Leines

Maya and the Pride

Maya was just six years old when a woman with red fingernails pushed her into a lion enclosure. The woman’s name was Antonia Shepherd, she had shoes that clacked, and long fingernails that could, and often did, cause Maya to wince with pain. Maya’s father was in love with this woman: maybe because she smelled like a department store, or maybe because she had an adorable freckle on the end of her nose. Maya often longed to peel that freckle off, but she never got the chance, and she didn’t have any freckles of her own to practice with.

“Honey, Maya and I haven’t had nearly enough bonding time. What if I took her out somewhere, just the two of us?”

Maya listened from the living room, her heart beating loud against her t-shirt. She scooted closer to the door, further away from the TV that was always on, singing gibberish cartoons at her. Antonia said the TV kept her quiet, but the TV was so much louder than Maya could be. Sometimes she wrapped a blanket around her head and pretended she was being kidnapped to get away from the noise. Today, she eavesdropped instead.

“I know that little girl of yours is a handful, and most women wouldn’t want to take their boyfriend’s daughter out like I do, but well, you know I adore her. I just want her to know it.”
“What did you have in mind?”
Dad sounded much less concerned than he should have.
“Oh, I don’t know, ice-cream, the zoo, the hairdresser?”

Maya clutched her long braid with fear. No. She loved to swing her braid and feel it slap against her face, and she hated the sound of the hair-dryer, which Antonia used every morning. She especially hated the hairdressing cape. Wearing it felt like being in the belly of a big black fish with her head poking out of its lips. No! She would not go get a haircut, especially not with that woman.

Antonia walked in, scratched her long fingernails against Maya’s scalp, and invited her out, just the two of them. Her fingers stopped Maya from turning her head to look at Dad. She could sense him though, lingering in the doorway. Her only choice was to say yes.
“Only, I don’t want a haircut.”
Antonia’s nails tightened a fraction. “Someone’s been eavesdropping,” she giggled.
Maybe, if Antonia had taken Maya to the hairdresser, things would have been different, but she didn’t. She took her to the zoo instead.

Outside, the sun was pale yellow and sweat-inducing. Maya lived in a small city in the middle of the desert, and though it was winter, it was still hot. Maya and Dad used to live in another country, but she could barely remember it. When she and Antonia got into the car, the woman blasted the A.C. until Maya was blue-lipped and shivering. Antonia saw the goose-bumps, but she didn’t turn the A.C. down and Maya refused to ask for relief. Instead, she wrapped her hand around her braid like it was a snake she could throw into the driver’s seat. They arrived at the zoo.

“Where would you like to go?” Antonia asked without looking at her.
“The crocodiles!”

But the entire reptile house was closed. From the sounds of it, a small boy had climbed into the iguana enclosure and was refusing to come down from a very high box in the top corner. The iguanas were whipping their tails at any keeper who tried to come in and get him down. This zoo was not like most others.

Maya liked the big, ferocious animals. She had no interest in the timid gazelles or the tortoises chewing leaves of lettuce with their big grandpa lips. She liked animals with teeth much sharper than her own, and claws much sharper than Antonia’s. If she couldn’t see crocodiles, lions were the next best thing.

Maya and Antonia walked over to the enclosure, and Maya felt a shiver of joy when she looked down and saw their hulking shoulders and thick paws. She wished she was a lion. She roared quietly. They were separated from the lions by a glass barrier that reached Antonia’s chest, and a gorge that made it impossible for the lions to leap up to them.

“Why don’t we take a picture to send to your Daddy?”

Antonia took out her phone and began fixing her hair in the camera. Maya looked up at her, watching with amusement as one curl stuck down stubbornly, creating a swirl on the woman’s forehead. She started to giggle until Antonia’s murderous eyes flashed down at her and swept the smile off her face. When the curl was finally smoothed back, Antonia knelt down and pulled Maya towards her so they were cheek to cheek. Maya didn’t smile.

“Why aren’t you smiling?” Antonia said, straining to keep her voice light.
Maya shrugged.
“Well, I took you here to be nice to you. The least you can do is smile.”

Maya smiled. Until Antonia pressed the button, then she quickly frowned. Antonia huffed.

“Look. Look how nice I look there, smiling. Why can’t you be a good girl and smile?”

Maya puffed her cheeks out like a blowfish in the next picture. Then crossed her eyes. Right before Antonia pressed the button, so that she wouldn’t see what she was about to do. Maya was very quick. The curl returned to Antonia’s forehead and stuck there. She dug her nails into Maya’s arm, clutching her ever closer.

“You—will—take—this—picture—nicely!” she shook the girl with every word.
“Sorry, I just don’t want to look like you,” Maya giggled.
“What?” Antonia snapped, dropping her arm, “What did you say?”
Maya wanted to take it back, Antonia’s eyes were bulging slightly.
“I just… I don’t want to look like you.”
“Why?” Antonia burst, “What’s wrong with how I look?”

A woman wearing a tennis visor and yoga pants pulled a wagon full of kids past them, and paused to give Antonia a raised eyebrow. Antonia tried to smile at her; her cheek twitched. When the woman was gone, Maya built up the courage to ask something she’d always wanted to. For once, she was having fun with Antonia.

“Can I peel your freckle off?”

Maya had been staring at it, and the urge was burning in her finger. She couldn’t hold it in any longer, her finger inched towards the woman’s face. Antonia swiped it away with a furious hiss. A stream of words came out. Maya didn’t understand much except for the end.

“—and everyone. I mean everyone. Tells me how ADORABLE. My freckle is. So, so.”
Antonia took a deep breath. She smiled like a crocodile.
“Let’s take the picture, Maya.”

Antonia lifted Maya so that she was standing on the barrier in front of the enclosure. It was sloped, not a good place to stand, not enough room for her feet. Maya tried to say so, but Antonia was lifting the phone to get both of them in the picture.

I’m not sure if Antonia intended to feed Maya to the lions from the beginning, or if it was an idea that dawned on her when she saw their yellow teeth. She loved her boyfriend, but something about his child unsettled her. Maya was always alone in her room, and Antonia could hear her, talking with different voices, thudding, shouting war-cries. Plus, who doesn’t like TV?

Maybe she didn’t mean to push her into the enclosure, or maybe she did. Either way, Maya felt a sharp elbow smack her knee, and then the ground was out from under her. She saw the sky, the glass barrier trembling, her own arms reaching out for something to grab onto. Her scream rang through the big cat section of the zoo. When she landed, the wind was knocked right out of her. Her head smacked the grass painfully, and for a moment, everything went black. She opened her eyes and squinted up at Antonia, who was peering down at her, safely behind the glass. Maya couldn’t get up, everything hurt. Then she felt the hot huff of lion breath.

When Antonia saw Maya stirring, she glanced around to see if anyone had seen the girl fall. The zoo was not busy, since it was a weekday afternoon. Nobody was around. Antonia clacked over to the pizza stand, ordered a slice, and chewed while she contemplated her next move. She rubbed her lower belly and tried to glow, the way women in her condition were supposed to. The pizza server asked if everything was okay, watching her demented smile with trepidation.
“Is the pizza not agreeing with you?”
Antonia started to retort, then simpered, “Maybe the little one doesn’t like beef-pepperoni.”
She rubbed her belly more conspicuously. The server backed away.
Antonia nodded to herself, this was as good a time as any to tell him. She clacked over to the zoo entrance, smiled at the attendant, got in her car and drove home.

Meanwhile Maya had started to regain feeling in her arms and legs. She could sense the lion nearby, but didn’t dare to look at it. Should she move? Play dead? Try to run? Before she could do anything, she felt jaws closing around her ankle. She froze. She was certain that if she screamed the lion would start to eat her right then. Her braid dragged behind her as the lion pulled her into the fake den, and down into the concrete pit underneath the enclosure.

“Hello sweetheart, I’m back!” Antonia sang at her boyfriend.
“Hey, you’re back soon, how was it?”
How that man loved that woman we’ll never know, but he did, truly.
Antonia smiled sweetly, “I have something to tell you!”
“Where’s Maya?”
“Well, she didn’t want to leave the zoo, see. But I had to tell you something and it couldn’t wait,” Antonia rubbed her belly in anticipation.
“You left my six year old daughter at the zoo, alone?”
He was getting hung up on the wrong detail. He wasn’t noticing her glow.
“Well yes, but–”
“I cannot believe this,” his face looked like thunder, “my daughter. My only daughter, who do you think you ARE?”
“I’m pregnant!”

Maya was scratched all over from where she’d been dragged against the concrete. The light was dim and her heart was pounding. If they were going to eat her, she hoped it would be quick. The lioness had dropped her like a rag-doll and was greeting an old lion that was lazing in the corner. The lion stood up, and both of them loomed over her with drooling jaws.

“What are you doing in our enclosure, human?”
The lion. It was speaking.
“Y-you can talk!”
The lion huffed, “Yes, and they never drop live meat into our enclosure, so I have to be sure. Have you been laced with poison? Is this how they finally get rid of me?”
“I hope I haven’t been poisoned. I fell in accidentally. Or, I guess, I was pushed.”
Maya told the old lion about Antonia, her clacking heels and her department store smell.
“I hate when humans wear perfume,” the lion growled.
Maya nodded, “Me too.”
There was a long, almost awkward pause. Maya felt the need to break it, the lions still looked angry.
“Wow, it’s pretty dark down here.”
“Dark, really? Do you see that light in the corner? It’s always on, always flickering and irritating my eyes. We’re mostly nocturnal you know,” the old lion said.
“Can’t you tell the zookeepers that it bothers you?”
The old lion snorted, “All they hear when I talk is growling. I learned to talk from my first owner. A girl who was a little older than you.”
“What happened to her?”

So the old lion told Maya the story of how he ended up in a zoo in the desert. Poachers came for his pride, in a place far away, with long grasses and wide open space. He heard gunshots and he tried to run. He got left behind. The poachers put him in a cage, and the cage went on a plane, and the plane landed here, where a man kept him in an apartment and fed him cat food, which made him feel very sick. Finally, the man put the lion in a cardboard box with holes, and when it was opened, the lion saw the smiling face of a girl in a party hat.

“You got me a lion cub?” she squealed.

The girl had never been so happy, and neither had the lion, except for during his days in the wild. But he was growing too fast, and one day the girl’s Dad put him in the back of their car, and walked him on a leash into the zoo.

“I’m not the only one. All the lions here have a story like me. And the cheetahs too.”
Maya felt anger bubbling in her stomach. She was so angry that she forgot the scrapes on her skin and the aches from where she’d fallen. She sat up and felt her head spin.
“This isn’t fair! We’ve got to do something.”
The lion roared his agreement, and Maya heard the echoes of other lions roaring back. There were at least thirty lions down there in cages, hidden from the public.

Maya’s father sprinted through the zoo, calling her name. The girl was nowhere to be found. Antonia trotted reluctantly behind him. She didn’t see why he would miss Maya when she was providing a brand new kid for him.
“Where did you leave her?” he growled.
“By the lions,” Antonia said.
They arrived in the big cats section, and Maya’s father skidded to a stop, unsure of where to look. Then, both of them heard a squealing child who was standing in front of the lion enclosure, looking in.
“Look Mummy! Look!”
“Yes, lions,”
“Look, look, there’s a girl!”

The child’s mother let out a soul-tearing scream when she saw Maya cartwheeling for the lions. The scream was so loud that Antonia was sure Maya was done for, and hurried over, doing her best to look concerned.

When she saw Maya riding on the back of a lion, she knew she was toast. She let out a shrill little scream of her own. Maya’s father was pale, and swayed like he might fall over. Maya looked up at them, smiled and waved.
“Don’t worry Daddy, I’m okay!”
Maya returned to the lions as she grew older, and told the zookeepers their grievances with the food and the lack of space. In exchange, the keepers let her play in the enclosure after visiting hours. They called her Maya The Lion Tamer, and though she hated Antonia, Maya loved her new baby brother when he arrived.

Maya also befriended the boy who lived in the iguana enclosure… but that’s another story for another time.

Artwork by Icinori

Paula Rego’s Delightful Violence

The Pain and Wonder of Childhood in Paula Rego’s Peter Pan Illustrations

Underneath a sky of milky stars and a doubled moon, Paula Rego imagines a mermaid drowning Wendy; the beloved “little mother” who was first written by J.M. Barrie in 1904 and then appropriated by Disney in 1953. Wendy half-floats, her body sprawled and still visible through a transparent black sea. She is not resisting the violence being enacted on her, and the mermaid doesn’t seem to be using much force. If Wendy is not dead already, she has accepted her looming death with a sad kind of nobility. This scene never occurs in the original novel. By situating a drowning inside a beloved and well-known children’s tale, Paula Rego reminds the viewer of an uncomfortable truth: childhood is not a landscape free from exploitation or violence. Rego’s Peter Pan illustrations are an exploration of the danger of childhood: a danger that is present in every adaptation of this text, even if it is forgotten or ignored. Rego makes explicit the trauma already lurking in this story, but she also manages to maintain the magic of Neverland, an element of this series that is often forgotten by scholars of her work. Fairy tales like Peter Pan do not create idealized, safe places for children that Rego is simply destroying by bringing in danger from the “outside” world; fairy tales have always been fraught with a danger that Rego brings to the forefront.

Academic Jack Zipes argues that Rego’s images “suggest that the world is discombobulated, and that childhood is a period of abuse and danger for children.” The mermaid lagoon is not free from the dangers that adults face, and neither is Wendy. The mermaid is larger and more powerful than her: she has two strong tails, a broad muscular back and rippling shoulders. Wendy, by comparison, is limp and lanky, only half the size of the mermaid, and is being pushed down into a black sea with nobody in sight to rescue her. Zipes calls this image of the mermaid drowning Wendy “brutal,” and in her monograph, Paula Rego, Fiona Bradley refers to this mermaid as having a “savage determination,” to kill Wendy. Critic Rosenthal argues that “Wendy for once is a helpless child rather than a solid nurturing female… Rego’s version of a siren of the deep is about as unalluring as she could be.” Yet all three critics neglect to address the calm beauty of the image, the nuances of the violence being enacted and how the characters are reacting to it.

At first glance and partially because of the title, we know the mermaid is drowning Wendy. She is undoubtedly being pushed down into water by a threatening figure. So we expect to see something brutal or savage. But Rego subverts that expectation. There is no splashing, no struggle, no fear. The sky creates a starry backdrop that looks sublime and peaceful rather than sinister. The mermaid is strong, but there is no anger on her face, her expression rather oscillates between sadness and grim determination. Her mouth could be firmly closed with a concentrated brow, or her mouth is open and grimacing with sad, upturned eyebrows, expressing regret or worry. It depends on how the viewer sees the image. If Wendy was cropped out, the mermaid could merely be doing manual labour, or massaging a lover, based on her posture and expression.

Wendy is not fighting for her life, either because she is already dead or because she has no desire to fight. Her left arm rests against the mermaid’s tail, and her right arm floats upwards, her hand awkwardly bent out of the water. Her face and ears seem to be out of the water, leading to the question of why the mermaid isn’t pushing her down by the head. Wendy seems oddly reliant on her murderer to stay afloat. Her legs are spread in a way that resembles some of the women in Rego’s “Untitled. The Abortion Pastels” series such as the one below.

“Untitled,” Paula Rego

Wendy is vulnerable specifically as a young girl. The more the viewer looks at the image of her and the mermaid, the more maternal the mermaid seems. She transforms into a mother who is simultaneously pushing her daughter down and keeping her alive. She doesn’t seem to want to kill Wendy — she easily could if she wanted to — and if Wendy is already dead then the question becomes: why is the mermaid still holding her up?

Behind the two figures, the pole on Marooners’ rock is the only sign of a male presence, where the pirates will later tie Tiger Lily in an attempt to murder her. This conveniently phallic object looms over both women like a flagpole, looking down on them. Not only is Rego pointing out the existence of trauma in a child’s world through this drowning, she is depicting its nuances. Sometimes it is beloved, trusted figures who enact violence on children. Sometimes one kind of violence is the only way to spare a child from another worse kind. The image of abuse can also be painted as hauntingly beautiful; throughout the Peter Pan illustrations, however, Rego shows that pain and beauty can coexist in one moment.

Jack Zipes argues that art made in reaction to fairy tales serves to undo their imagined utopias. Artists such as Rego use the fairy tale “to pierce artificial illusions that make it difficult for people to comprehend what is happening to them.” But I disagree with the assumption that fairy tales seek to create a utopia, or “soothe an anxious mind,” as Zipes calls it. In fact, much of what is explicit in Rego’s mermaid image is implicit in both Barrie’s and Disney’s versions. In Barrie’s novel, Wendy and the mermaids do not have a good relationship– they present a threat to her, “she never had a civil word from them… they utter strange wailing cries; but the lagoon is dangerous for mortals then.”

In the play version of this story, also by Barrie, Peter warns, “They are such cruel creatures, Wendy, that they try to pull boys and girls like you into the water and drown them.” Their threat to Wendy is distant under Peter’s protection, but it still lurks. This fairy tale specifically warns against groups of women who live together outside of a patriarchal structure. Wendy is better off being a “young mother” than risking the unknown amongst the mermaids. The Disney adaptation picks up on this fear of autonomous women and makes it more explicit by heightening the mermaids’ threat: they grab Wendy’s clothes, try to pull her down, and splash her. When Peter tells them to stop, one mermaid declares, “we were only trying to drown her.” Rego takes this fear of autonomous women, embedded in the original text and the film, and uses it to show how women fear each other and hold each other down.

In her article “Paula Rego’s Sabotage of Tradition: ‘Visions’ of Femininity,” academic Gabriela Macedo points out how Rego violates the invisible boundaries that demarcate what can and cannot be criticised: “Rego’s career has been devoted to crossing into forbidden territories (fascism, Catholicism, patriarchy); while her rewriting of national memory aims at exorcising fear, as well as exposing guilt and hypocrisy… makes it at the very least difficult not to see.” I would extend her argument to include childhood and fairy tales as other forbidden territories that Rego violates. Childhood is treated like something sacred, and adults expect children to behave in certain ways because of their own imaginations of what it means to be a child. Fiona Bradley argues, “Rego’s subjects refuse to conform to what might be expected of them, courting ambiguity so that their situations remain mobile… tender embraces are easily confused with violent struggle.” It would be nice to imagine childhood as a period of simplicity and tenderness, but Rego uses ambiguity to violate this imagined utopia that is dreamed up in the minds of adults. In the Peter Pan series, Rego makes explicit what already anxiously lurks in fairy tales. And she violates tacit understandings that we all collectively imagine childhood as something pure, and free from trauma.

In Rego’s illustration “Tiger Lily Tied to Marooners Rock,” a young girl in a loose white dress calmly allows herself to be bound to a rock that will soon be deep underwater. Her body is relaxed and her eyes are closed, but we know that she is awake because she squats against the rock rather than sprawls against it. Her captor is an unsmiling male figure who is emerging from the strange black shape around them, presumably Marooners Rock itself. Both he and the rock are black: parts of his body are disappearing into it, and he appears more statuesque than the other characters, creating the impression that he is a part of the rock coming to life, or has been carved out of it for the purpose of binding captives.

Two boys watch Tiger Lily’s demise with curiosity, and two mermaids do nothing to come to her aid. Similar to “Mermaid Drowning Wendy,” the violence of this image is doubtless. Tiger Lily is trapped on a rock where she will eventually die, and nobody seems interested in rescuing her, even though they easily could. Yet Rego once again subverts expectations about how violence is supposed to look, and what it can mean.

Tiger Lily, like Wendy, does nothing to resist the violence being enacted on her. Her captor has no true legs to chase her with, and he is just about to finish tying her up. So how did he force her into that position in the first place? If someone else brought her there, then why isn’t he tying her himself, and making sure that she doesn’t escape? Tiger Lily looks neither scared nor sad about her future death, and her expression remains peaceful, perhaps even joyful. If she wanted to escape, she could have easily wriggled away from the animate rock-man. So it seems that she has decided to allow this violence to happen. Maybe she even sought it out herself; maybe she enjoys it. This intersection between pleasure and pain is not supposed to occur in children’s stories because it is usually seen as disturbing or sexual. Seeing a young girl getting pleasure from violence is a violation of our collective imagination of childhood. Macedo writes about Rego’s violation of Catholicism and patriarchy, arguing that, “Whether ‘the mater’ confronts directly gender or games of power, social and political hierarchies, it always ‘defies the pain’ and gives the viewer no solace, but… a tantalizing sense of pleasure and threat.” Tiger Lily, as a child, experiences both pleasure and threat in a violent world. She is playing a game that we usually think children are exempt from.

In the background of this illustration, at a strangely small scale, a silhouetted male figure points a rifle at a mermaid tail, which is diving into the piece of land he is standing on, or into the water behind it. The presence of the mermaids to the right of the picture makes it clear that the tail is a mermaid and not a very large fish, so it is definitely a female being hunted. The image is easy to miss, but it presents a foil to Tiger Lily’s behaviour. She may have sought out the violence she is experiencing, but the mermaid runs away from it.The viewer then returns to wondering why Tiger Lily is so complicit in her own trauma.

It is possible that she desires this pain and enjoys it, but that does not make her passive or powerless. Rosenthal argues that in this image, “Rego depicts her [Tiger Lily] as just another helpless female, which is doubtless legitimate considering her plight. One would, however, have enjoyed seeing what Rego might have made of this feisty Redskin woman warrior… had she chosen to depict her in one of her more militant moments.” Rosenthal doesn’t acknowledge the power of Tiger Lily’s choice in the face of violence. Instead of being afraid, she embraces trauma and appropriates it for her own use; Rego could have illustrated this female warrior in a fight, but she chose to depict a more nuanced situation where Tiger Lily remains somewhere between freedom and constraint, despite literal bonds. She is not “just another helpless female.” Her decision to find pleasure in trauma is an act of resistance, an alternative to militancy, and a representation of how some women and girls find freedom under immense patriarchal constraint.

Tiger Lily and Wendy are both young girls who are threatened by violence. It is a threat that is implicit in Barrie’s fairy tale and exists in the lives of real children. It would be wonderful to imagine that childhood is a utopia free from trauma, but fairy tales have always hinted at the vulnerability of children and the horrors they face. Rego draws out the danger that lurks in Neverland: where female monsters drown children, men tie little girls to poles, boys shoot girls out of the sky, and a grown man is obsessed with capturing and killing a young boy. Rego’s work complicates and amplifies the anguish of childhood, whilst maintaining another seemingly paradoxical truth, which is that fairy tales, childhood and trauma are often also beautiful.

References
Rosenthal, T.G. Paula Rego: The Complete Graphic Works. London: Thames and Hudson. 2012.
Grey, Tobias. “Paula Rego’s Dark Fairy Tales,” Blouin Art Info.
Macedo, Gabriela. “Paula Rego’s Sabotage of Tradition: ‘Visions’ of Femininity,” University of Wisconsin Press.
Peter Pan (film). Walt Disney. 1953.
Barrie, J.M. Peter Pan, Or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up. The Folio Society. 1992.
Barrie, J.M. Peter Pan. Aladdin Paperbacks. 2003.
Zipes, Jack, The Irresistible Fairy Tale. Princeton University Press. 2012.
Bradley, Fiona, Paula Rego. Tate Publishing. 2002.
Miller, Sandra, “Paula Rego’s Nursery Rhymes,” Print Quarterly Publications. 1991.
Rosenthal, T.G. “On Art and Essays” Andrews UK. 2014.
Fortnum, Rebecca, Contemporary British Women Artists: In Their Own Words. Taurus & Co. 2006.

Mermaid Drowning Wendy, Paula Rego (1992).
Tiger Lily Tied to Marooners Rock, Paula Rego (1992).

Cover art by Paula Rego “Captain Hook and a Lost Boy”

An Obituary That Should Be Written Sooner Rather Than Later to Megaman by edwrdsaeed

Crossover.memory.into.an.airport.in.amsterdam.the.year.is.2002.or.maybe.2003 or.maybe.a.video.game.about.mario.without.luigi.is.impossible.so.I.told.the.boy.who.was.also.six.I.think.next.t o.me.[1]
The boy disagreed, but a few years later, I unlocked Luigi in Super Smash Brothers Melee.[2] When I owned the game.

I now own Super Smash Brother Ultimate,
Three games later, all with Luigi, and ignoring the Two games in the middle, because
They do not have my mind on a hook
streaming my brain back to combos,
Even to Luigi whom I don’t play.
Broken into the stick that now
Breaks my combo. Everything
Seems to be broken, especially
Combos by edwrdsaeed,
Because if movement is not
Accurate on screen then,
It is non existent, as should
Be Megaman by edwrdsaeed.
Megaman by edwrdsaeed needs to retire.[3]


[1] I encountered this game in a transition of life, that has not left me. I have left myself transitioning into the non-transition of this game has not left me. The room was small, and my knowledge was that I can’t speak english, but I can at least press a few buttons and communicate.

[2] I was told the gamecube was old when I opened my present Christmas eve. I was also told many things, but I don’t remember many things. I do, however, remember much of the conversation I had with a fellow gamer in a different language that sounded like Portuguese. It wasn’t Portuguese. The reality in retrospect was a one kid screaming a heavily accented, “Luigi,” and maybe another kid in english being, “no.” But, what is no, when I don’t, know what no is in English.

[3] If a poem could be a sentence it should be the death of Megaman by edwardsaeed. There is no sentence there, just like there is no way to make Megaman by edwrdsaeed remain unalive. I think the nervous system of its players would benefit.

Artwork by Alex Oswith

Petit Prince

I paint a lot of portraits. My paintings don’t really convey a message. I am not looking for a cause or a problem to be denounced. I rather feel things through. If there is a message then I am unaware of it. People often say “But Sandra, you wanted to say this or that in this painting, isn’t it ?”  I watch my own work and then begin to realize ” Yes, maybe.” But I am primarily motivated by feeling.

In 2014, I lost all my inspiration. I kept asking myself: should I stop painting? But while reading a magazine, I realized I could try collage. At first, it was just a cut-out portrait that I painted over; I wanted to do collage until the need and the desire for painting came back. But now I still do collage. I love it, to cut, paste, cut, paste…. it brings me back to my childhood. It really removes my stress. I love to associate and connect things that would never go together to create a dreamlike and poetic atmosphere in my collages.

See more of Sandra Paris’ work here