KarolinaJonderko is a Polish photographer who nursed her beloved mother throughout a frightful journey to the end with cancer. After her mother died, Jonderko realized that she’d forgotten all the happy memories of family life before cancer. So she took a remarkable decision. Jonderko decided to photograph herself wearing her mother’s clothes and have her sister recall and record happy memories evoked by various outfits. Jonderko's sister had her happy memories intact because she had not nursed their Mom. At first, the project was purely personal, but when a photographer friend saw the images, he urged Jonderko to share them in order to help others struggling with grief and loss. I am very glad that we have these images now and that through her art, Jonderko was able to reclaim her happy memories of her mother.
"It’s Christmas Eve, mom bustling in the kitchen, taking golden carp out of the oven carefully as not to stain herself with the hot butter. She is even wearing makeup, green, to match the outfit. She’s happy. She loves Christmas. After dinner, she is sitting at the piano and we all are singing Christmas carols." (Text by Karolina Jonderko’s sister)
My own daughter Natalie is a specialist in material culture and object analysis. She has a particular interest in clothing, memory and identity. In her undergraduate course of study, she wrote an essay about a dress and a suit that I had worn years ago and that I gave to her. This is what she wrote about my clothes that she wears now:
In Daniel Miller’s ‘Making Love in Supermarkets’, Miller explains the act of parenting as a sacrifice through love. Miller shows that parents want to give to their children the sense that they are known and loved, always searching to give them the best life experiences and chances as possible. Often, this relationship is mediated through material objects. When my mother passed on these dresses, she passed on the hopeful sentiments that I would someday experience the same happy memories as she did. As McKraken explains, when things are bought or passed forward, there is often a ‘divestment ritual’, whereby the traces of its passed owner are erased, in order for objects to be personalized by its new owner. However, in the case of these garments, the exact opposite of a divestment ritual has happened where my mother and I both reside in the garments, both mentally and physically. In reaction to passing the garments on to me, my mother stated “I don’t see it as a loss at all, it is a gain, they have a new life through you. Parenting is all about love, you want your child to have, you want your child to dream, you want your child’s dreams to come true, and to give them a symbol of your own dreams coming true”. Here, the garments act as a bridge between the relationship I hold with my mother, where the narratives of our lives become increasingly embedded within them not in a sentiment of tension, but mutually constitutive. As the garments are continually worn, the stories accompanying that elevated experience are told, and we continually learn more about one another as individuals. (Essay "My Mother's Dress" by Natalie Wright, Masters in American Material Culture, Winterthur Museum and Gardens)
(Bead detail from my dress that Natalie now wears.)
I am so happy that my daughter has my dresses and that we each experience such strong individual and shared memories through them. Listening to Karolina Jonderko today reflect on the loss of her mother, I thought about my own mother’s things. I thought about what I will leave behind for my children. How will our losses be healed by touching our loved one’s possessions? Karolina Jonderko offers one way (her way) of banishing painful memories and replacing them with mental images of smiles, laughter and love.