Santos y Sombras/Saints and Shadows

By Muriel Hasbun

1. El altar de mi bisabuelo/ My Great Grandfather’s Altar.

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I come from peoples in exile.

I became an adult with an extreme sensitivity to the irreconcilable…

Since 1990, I have committed my creative energy to developing a body of work that explores my family history and sense of identity. Santos y sombras is a refuge against silence and forgetting. The work becomes a personal diary where I mold the emotional aura surrounding my Palestinian/Salvadoran Christian and Polish/French Jewish family as I was growing up in El Salvador.

With the Todos los santos (All the Saints) images, I explore my memories of childhood as well as delve into the expression of identity of my paternal, Palestinian Christian family. Through the finding of family photos and documents, the collection of oral histories, and the re-evaluation of my own perceptions, I am slowly reconstructing a world that, with the process of assimilation and the passage of time, had become obscured.

The ¿Sólo una sombra? (Only a Shadow?) images take me into a world where silence is refuge; persecuted in France and in Poland during World War II, my maternal Jewish family had no alternative but to become invisible. Through my work, I begin to unearth the lingering echoes of those silenced voices, hoping to regenerate them, from burnt ash into glimmering light.

My photographic work, then, is a process of re-encounter, of synthesis and of re-creation. Through it, past and present become interlaced in a renewed configuration; the Palestinian desert and Eastern European ash sift, shift and blend in the volcanic sands of El Salvador, to form the texture of the path on which I define and express my experience.

Muriel Hasbun is Professor and Program Head of Photography at the Corcoran School of Arts & Design at George Washington University. 

See also: El Salvador