Art, Identity, Migration
As an intern at the gallery, I was looking through the Ben Uri collection online and was inspired by a drawing I found by the graphic artist Sarah Lightman, It’s OK, pencil on paper, 2006. Using this image as my starting point, I did some research on her art and her working process.
Lightman captures her life story through powerful combinations of images and words. Her drawings are her diary, showing and telling her life story through objects and their associations; take Toothbrush, pencil on paper, 2008, the drawing depicts two toothbrushes sitting either side of a jar – the emotional resonance of these seemingly everyday, domestic objects, is brought to life through the accompanying text: “Things develop… ‘And now yours sits next to mine. Does this mean I am your girlfriend?’ Similarly, Jar of Raisins, pencil on paper, 2008, subtly depicts emotional eating, with the simple and yet telling tag line: ‘A jar of raisins when an article was pulled’.
In this way, Lightman takes the seemingly everyday or unimportant and re-presents it, ascribing importance through personal context, circumstance, emotion. There is a real honesty to her work; the personal vulnerability she captures is what gives her work an edge and draws in viewers who no doubt can relate to these human emotions, behaviours, reactions.
In Lightman’s own words: “I am not embarrassed to show the bad as well as good times and I have always found making art about difficulties a way to make sense of my life so I agree with this text by Stephen Joseph in his new book, ‘The key to enabling […] growth is to take control of the stories that survivors tell themselves, [and] re-author these stories,’ (What Doesn’t Kill Us: The New Pyschology of Posttraumatic GrowthPiatkus, 2011, p. 148.)
It’s OK, pencil on paper, 2006, illustrates this well. Part of the Ben Uri collection, the drawing shows Lightman looking very sad, accompanied with the line: “It’s okay to sometimes feel sad, looking back at what happened because it won’t be a moment till I’m happy again.” She admits her sadness but also gives it a new perspective, simply through the (presumably cathartic) act of drawing; she will be OK again and therefore ‘it’s OK’.
Lightman’s drawings show a new way of looking, and of finding meaning. This is very powerful because, as the common adage goes, truly, life is in the detail.