In the lead up to Documenta14 the British artist Rosalind Nashashibi was commissioned to make a portrait of the artists Vivian Suter and Elisabeth Wild and their secluded life in the jungle outside the city of Panajachel in Guatemala. The result is a gripping tale about a mother-daughter relationship, about creativity, about the need for a room of one’s own and about underlying colonial power relations.
Nashashibi’s films are characterised by their beginning at an opening of a physical border. As it closes, one is left with a pervasive feeling of being penned in.
In Vivian’s Garden, the gate to Vivian’s and Elisabeth’s female sanctuary is opened and closed by Don Juan – one of the many Maya Indians working for the Austrian artists. Nashashibi then follows the servants in their tasks and simultaneously portrays Vivian’s everyday life and her relationship to her 95-year-old mother.
In vibrant imagery on 16mm film, and an elaborate play with light and darkness, we get a glimpse of a chosen exile in an overgrown garden where the world has been left outside. We are allowed intimately close, but are also shut out from the interplay between mother and daughter, where the roles are often subtly interchanged. Abrupt conversations about a violent past, and an impending journey of Vivian’s, open up their paradise to a threatening outside world. This paradise is in fact both prison and sanctuary.
Images: stills from Vivian’s Garden, courtesy of Rosalind Nashashibi and LUX, London.