As a spectral mother’s disembodied voice suffuses the atmosphere with tenderness, it never quite reaches the shore of her drifting daughter. Their necks, gently intertwined in an intimate configuration, are carefully fixed in opposite directions. We never see the mother’s face and this asymmetry is intentional. Both figures are connected by what separates them. It is only in collectively looking towards the ocean, spilling in and out of one another, that their gaze finally overlaps. For the daughter, a coherent and discrete sense of self is neither desirable nor necessary in this quest for communion. Identity is porous and intergenerational, all- encompassing and precarious. Its rippling waves dissolve borders, coalescing into bodies of water that surpass the sum of their ebbing and flowing parts.
In Jessica Beshir’s Ladan, we are submerged, always already in the middle of something and trying to move in multiple directions at once. It is as if we live our lives in order to remember what has been forgotten, to retrieve what has disappeared from collective consciousness, condensing encounter and accumulating experience to extend us beyond ourselves. The fluid texture of memory eludes being synthesised into a perfect whole. What makes the failure of memory successful is the distance between mother and daughter, between past and present. As Toni Morrison writes, “All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was”. The bodies of water in Ladan encounter a similar fate, with the immaterial core of memory preceding and outliving the corporeal bodies that wearily contain it.