Artist's Statement

Saro Calewarts

At age 10, the night my mother and I fled from her abusive boyfriend for the last time, all she took was a canvas bag filled with our shoes. The word “miscellaneous” was imprinted on the bag, a detail now imprinted in my memory. We had already moved twenty times due to the cycle of abuse, yet this time was different. A few days later we were on a bus to live in a women’s shelter in another state – to start a new life. That night my mother literally and figuratively walked us out of one life and put us on the path to a new one. Years later, I asked her why she only took shoes and she said she could make us almost everything else, but not those. It was a survival based decision that exemplifies how tenuous our lives were then.

Agency Lessons is a work in progress that weaves together disparate elements of my experiences of surviving a traumatic childhood fraught with domestic violence, poverty and neglect. It blends personal archival material with found and staged imagery to tell a fragmented narrative of feelings, moments and transformation. The work is an intentional collaboration between my girlhood self and the middle-aged adult I have become. It blends together our experiences, memories and perspectives through symbolic metaphor to evoke a storybook format.

Today, I identify as a survivor and I know that our leaving that night was an inflection point in both our lives. Had we stayed, I’m certain my life would have had a very different and tragic trajectory. Through sharing this work, I hope to spark conversation and thought about the impact of childhood trauma and the significance of being able to access personal agency to alter the course of one’s life.