Synchronicities, Traditions, and Remembrance: The Work of De’De’ Ajavon exhibition at Prelude Point Gallery
De’De’ Ajavon is a multi-media artist that concerns herself primarily with the nebulous concepts of energy and time–the intangible. Her work draws parallels between the paradoxically timeless and ephemeral nature of time, memory, and the phenomenon of photography itself. Her usage of tactile photographic processes, like gum bichromate and cyanotype printing, grounds her conceptual ideas in the real. De’De’ Ajavon has recently opened the exhibition, Synchronicities, Traditions, and Remembrance, at the Prelude Pointe Gallery in Marietta, GA.
The artist states, “Synchronicities, Traditions, and Remembrance explores what is left behind after the loss of a parent—the haziness, the serendipity, the perpetual void. I have spent my whole life recovering from the tricks Memory and Time have played on my mind, only to learn that I always knew. We can never get back what has gone, but some things never leave us.
This project is the result of my deep contemplation regarding time’s ability to distort our memories and how we perceive them; and the photograph’s ability to directly combat that by simultaneously acting as evidence, and as a subconscious lead to the things we might have already known deep down inside.”
Follow De’De’ Ajavon on Instagram: @dede.ajavon
Can you tell us about your childhood?
I grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta with my mom, who is Panamanian and Polish, my dad, who was Togolese, and little brother Ayi, who is three years younger than me. When I was about five years old, my dad was diagnosed with ALS–also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The disease progressed very quickly, and he passed on July 23, 2003, when I was six years old. Experiencing the death of a parent at such a young age made me aware of my own mortality and the ephemeral nature of life.
How did you get started in photography?
Photography has always been a part of my life. After my dad passed away, my mom really focused on creating happy new memories together, so she’d take us all over the place–to different events, zoos, aquariums, cultural festivals, concerts, you name it! And of course, she’d photograph us at all these places. It was a normal occurrence for her to shoot through 2 or 3 disposable cameras in a one day-trip. When she finally got a digital camera, she let me use it whenever I wanted to. As I grew up, I just never stopped taking pictures. When it was time to think about college, pursuing a career in the arts wasn’t even an idea, and I ended up doing journalism instead. I truly had convinced myself that I didn’t have a creative bone in my body. In 2018, I got really sick and had a near-death experience. When I came out the other side, I couldn’t let myself go back to school for something I hated, and I wanted to give photography a serious try. I got accepted into my program last spring, and since then, I’ve been experimenting, and developing my practice.
What was your inspiration for Synchronicities, Traditions, and Remembrance?
This project was inspired by my dad’s passing in 2003, and the effects that trauma has had on my memory. This project was really an exploration of what it feels like to re-access memories, and how time has the ability to distort our memories.
How has your view of time changed with the progression of this project?
You know, it’s funny because before doing this project I had so many anxieties about time passing too quickly, but now I’m thankful to be here in the present moment. In a strange way, I’m grateful for the way the passage of time forces us to reckon with our trauma.
What is your relation to the subjects in your photos?
Each image in this project has a direct link to my dad in one way or another. I’ll explain a few of them here: Namesake depicts the cultural meaning of mine and my brother’s names; My dad’s name was Ayite, and the first born daughter of Ayite is always De’De’, and the first born son is always Ayi. WINNER depicts my dad in his late-teens. In all his glory, as bell hooks would say. This image just captured the essence of who he was, and the weaving of this piece illustrates the dissonance between who he was when he was young, and who he was at the end of his life. Generational, is a cyanotype print of a photograph I found of my dad at 8 y/o, squatting front-and-center at his own dad’s funeral. Finding that picture was incredibly surreal.
Process in choosing found photographs over new photographs?
It was actually a super intuitive process! Our family archive is huge, so I had a lot of options to choose from. I spent several days looking through almost all of our photos–some of which I’d never seen before, like the image I used in Comfort for example. Every image I’d previously seen of me and my dad together, was a happy one. The image in Comfort is a picture of my dad literally comforting me right after I was baptized. Since he passed away when I was so young, he never had a chance to comfort me in really difficult times; so finding that picture and making art out of it was very healing for me. In the end, I selected images that I had an immediate, visceral reaction to–images that really connected with me deep inside and made me remember things from when I was little.
Can you describe your process and workflow for this project?
In this project I utilized two different processes: cyanotype printing and gum bichromate printing–the latter being far more tedious. Both techniques require digital negatives, which are inverted images printed onto a transparency paper. With cyanotypes, a light-sensitive mixture of chemicals is painted onto paper or cloth, with the digital negative on top, and then exposed to light. The print is then washed, and the signature Prussian blue color develops. Gum Bichromate printing uses an emulsion of gum arabic, watercolor paint, and a dichromate. This emulsion is applied to paper, with the digital negative on top, and then is exposed to light. After it’s developed, the print is rinsed in cool water and the hardened gum arabic is brushed away, revealing an image. After making my prints, I decided to use a weaving technique I learned in daycare when I was a kid. The weaving, and textural qualities I included in the work felt like the best way for me to depict what it feels like to process memories, and trauma.
What was your takeaway from this project? How does this project make you feel?
The first word that comes to mind when thinking about this project is relief. All my life, I’ve had to contend with the depression, anger, and trauma my dad’s passing left me with–never really knowing how to express it. Making Synchronicities, Traditions, and Remembrance gave me the chance to work through my feelings. Now, I can finally think about my dad without spiraling. I can finally appreciate the amazing memories I do have, and I’m lucky enough to have pictures of him to look back on.
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