Crowding the small, square kitchen, my Emaye (beloved mother), my daughter, and I, our skin colors, coffee to cream, loaded the dishwasher as Emaye, began a story from long ago, back home:
“Zim Zim was a…, a…” shame snagged the narrative. “The one who does that thing,” she tried again, “That thing to all the girls…So we hate her.” A stone formed inside my larynx so unforgiving, I felt myself disassociate as I offered the English: “Female circumcision,” I said, the words, thin threads in the corners of my ears.
Yet my mother’s immigration to this country wasn’t muslin for cashmere. It was just a cotton shawl: threads of sacrifice interwoven with threads of independence. And even though she raised me here – a profane, American, “mixed” girl – without checkboxes for either religion or race, the anvil of her history persists inside me: Christian. Ethiopian. Proud. Righteous. Female. But somehow also: African-Subordinate-to-
That complexity is embodied in this work. In retrospect, I have to laugh because the metaphor of the medium is so obvious: the act of pulling long fibers forward and back again through a canvas barrier; applying irritated effort to untangle matted parts; accepting that certain knots would remain, finding beauty in the whole and wonder in the individual stitches –that is the complexity of a mother-daughter relationship. Moreover, it’s a commentary on what it is to be a second-generation-White-
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Saaba Lutzeler is a Saint Louis-based portrait painter. From 1996 until last year, she worked almost exclusively in pastel, but the long months at home during the Covid shut-down sparked a shift toward more physical, tangible materials and a curiosity about things that are intrinsically slow. Now Lutzeler has launched an entirely new body of work in textiles, encaustic, ink, and collage. Embedded in this new work is the profound sense of patience, grace, and persistence generated through the glacial tempo of hand-stitching.
A self-described Halfie (half white American; half Ethiopian), Saaba is especially interested in making portraits that, through expression and gesture alone, tell the stories of people living in society between places: between cultures, commitments, ethnicities, genders, races, religions, or even between lives and deaths. Because the representation of the subjects in her works isn’t explicitly “in-between,” Saaba sees them as opportunities for viewers to either simply enjoy the craft for the sake of curiosity and pleasure, or to tap their ability to make inferences in order to experience empathy or identification. Saaba’s works have hung in solo and group exhibitions in galleries in both the San Francisco Bay Area and the St. Louis region, selling widely to collectors and private commissions.
When not creating art, Saaba enjoys working with her personal training clients, teaching group fitness classes, building furniture, tending her plants, and creating elaborate meals for friends and family.
© Saaba Lutzeler