Joaquina Pires has brought her 2017 exhibit, Fil de Tendresse/Fio de Ternura/Thread of Tenderness, from Montreal to Toronto, where it opened on Thursday, June 6, at the Peach Gallery to a room full of people, young and old, who came to celebrate and share their stories of grandparents.
The current exhibit, in a series of photographs, videos and written texts, explores the role and place of grandparents in the lives of their families and especially of their relationships with grandchildren. Manuela Marujo, who collaborated with Joaquina on making the Toronto exhibit an interactive experience between the young and the old, organized two competitions. The first, a Concurso Literário for children between the ages of 10-15, asking them to write about why their grandparents are special. The best three texts won prizes that included tickets to a concert by Xutos e Pontapés, as well as a tickets for a Blue Jays game. The second, a Concurso Fotografía, for those between the ages of 15 to 25. The best three photographs were chosen to be displayed as part of the exhibit. In addition to the same prizes given to the children, they received a copy of MEMÓRIA: An Anthology of Portuguese Canadian Writers, a gift from the editor, Fernanda Viveiros.
Originally inspired by hearing me reading my short story, “Avó lives alone,” at Café com letras, readings with Luso Vox Writers, in Montreal, Joaquina embarked on a journey of documenting her Montreal community’s experience of grandparents, and now that of Toronto. The theme, of course, as seen through a Portuguese lens, is not restricted to the experience of Portuguese families but rather embraces the universal themes of ageism, the place of the elderly in society, and the relationship between intergenerational members of families.
I like Joaquina’s exhibit title, A Thread of Tenderness, because often the relationship between the old and the young are linked by nothing more than a flimsy thread, one that can be broken so easily, especially through neglect and the passage of time. The importance of including grandparents in the life of their grandchildren is paramount for the survival of the memory of the past. There have been many times when I have been told stories by young adults of how it was their grandparents who helped them keep the Portuguese language alive, how it was their presence in their lives that have sustained them through changes and the instability of modern family life. Again, this experience is not exclusive to the Portuguese: it’s a universal family experience, and one which parents ought to pay attention to as an important legacy for their children by ensuring that they are given a chance to have a relationship with their grandparents.
It is a fragile relationship, hanging on a fio, a thread, partly because it is so time sensitive. The grandparent will surely die, the grandchildren will surely grow up and be less interested in their elders, this is normal, but if they have had a strong bond with their grandparents when young, they will remember it for ever. The time spent with grandparents is a gift for the future of their grandchildren and one that will ensure that their memory will live on beyond a fio de ternura.
Photo credit: Michael Baptista
I am grateful to Joaquina Pires for hearing “Avó Lives Alone,” and for having the generosity of heart to create an exhibit about grandparents inspired by the story.