Shadows Fall Behind
The red thread of destiny
by Andrea Pacheco González
This is my home
this fine line of
The Red Thread of Destiny is an ancient Asian legend that can be found in both Chinese (红线) and Japanese (赤い糸) mythology, which relates to the idea that a thin and invisible red thread emotionally connects people. Beyond the place, context or circumstances that one might have to live through, they will end up meeting at some point, for they are bound by an unbreakable bond. Although this belief has been appropriated by the fantasy of romantic love, the myth actually alludes to the force of destiny tying our lives together, regardless of the nature of the union. On a deeper level, it relates to trust, and to the faith that something beyond our actions sustains us, invoking a red thread tied to the pinkie as a symbol of a constellation of infinite connections; an amorous web that is able to contain the solitary existence of an individual. It is, no doubt, a charming belief. Oh, if only all persons, regardless of their origin, could trust in destiny like this.
Many artists, mostly non-European women, have made use of red strands or lines as a vindication, as a political and emotional gesture that touches on another aspect of this Asian myth: its counter-narrative. At times, it has been a path, a seam, a stain, a red cascade that falls to the ground. At others, it was blood traced over a surface, as in Teresa Margolles’s shrouds, Ana Mendieta’s bloody face or her silhouette outlined in the sand. But it is also in Cecilia Vicuña’s quipus, in the seams of Catalina Parra’s dismembered bodies, in Mona Hatoum’s undercurrents, and in the photos embroidered with red thread of the series, A Fine Line (2022), presented by Mónica de Miranda in this show. This collection juxtaposes a variety of artists’ works, practices and aesthetics, that communicate with each other across time and space in an almost spectral manner, as part of a web of irrevocable connections. The ghostly matters are important Avery F. Gordon affirms when she states that apparitions of past forces come to the present time and time again in various and complex forms. It is also the red thread of destiny that, in this case, underlines a universal unlove.
Mónica de Miranda (Porto, 1976) has developed a strong body of work around the African diaspora in Europe, specifically within the context of Portugal. Using photography and video as her main media, her work has explored the memory of the earth and of the landscape as a result of the colonial processes that were initiated by Europeans in the XVI century. In the collaborative format that her works often assume (her practice always dialogues with other creators) the artist delves into the colonial wounds of oppressed territories. However, the visual composition is diametrically opposed to an image of disgrace. “Her images are lyrical, performative, contemplative: they show moments of calm that offer a kind of comfort,” writes curator Mark Sealy about Mónica’s photos. Indeed, there is a duality, a contrast of representation apparent in her works: they allude to tensions in history that operate as a form of cryptography, and deciphering them offers an opportunity for reparation.
For the project Shadows Fall Behind, De Miranda realized deep research on the border between Spain and Morocco on the North African coast. She traveled to the cities of Ceuta and Melilla in an attempt to understand this other form of warp that intertwines—always tragically—a border fence and the promised land dreams of the migrant. The photos depict the landscape that these dreams look in. Might there be someone on the other side, with a red knot tied to my pinkie? Might the strand that kept us safe, be broken? Those could be the questions of someone who is no longer here to be answered. Like a subtle decoration, the artist overlays traditional Islamic patterns upon the horizon of the Spanish coast. And there it is once more, the phantasmal, the spectre of a denied cultural hybridization. Here, the red thread symbolizes an imaginary cartography that transgresses the geopolitical outline of this border, giving it texture and warmth; a pattern, as though it were something that could function as a sort of refuge.
Alongside the photos, the artist presents the video piece, Border Song (2022), made in collaboration with the afro-Portuguese musician Xullaji. The video follows the border of Ceuta and Melilla—a contour of no more than 20 kilometres—from a moving car. The images summon a painful procession of intertwined voices, sounds and chants from both sides of the steel line. There, blood has lost its colour. In this mesh, there are only severed threads; undone, ripped apart, dismembered, divided.
During her field research, Mónica de Miranda listened to dozens of people who remain stuck to the border, in between “who can live and who must die,” as stated by Achille Mbembe. The project is layered with accounts of those who are forced to be away from where they were born, of lives at the limit of all humanity, when the dream landscape transforms into a nightmare. Through the fiction created by these fabrics and interwoven voices, the artist ventures a sheltering gesture, a symbolic refuge in the face of the catastrophe of staying in those lands.
The border-town Chicana writer Gloria Anzaldúa proposes the idea of a “mundo surdo” [left-handed world] where all dissidence and all otherness are included, going directly against the principle of why borders were created in the first place. Her words are interspersed by the images that Mónica de Miranda shows in this exhibition, for at least they offer the possibility of imagining a destiny.
I am becoming-being
the questor the questing the quest
You and I have already met
We are meeting we will meet
The real unknown is feeling
The real unknown is love
We are the awakening feminine presence
We are the earth
We are the second coming
Achille Mbembe, Necropolitics, Melusina, 2006.
Avery F. Gordon, Ghostly Matters, University of Minnesota Press, 2008.
Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La frontera: The new mestiza, Capitán Swing, 2016.
Gloria Anzaldúa, “The coming of el mundo surdo”, in The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, ed. by AnaLouise Keating, Duke University Press, 2009.
Mark Sealy, African Cosmologies: Photography, Time and the Other, FotoFest Biennial, Schilt Publishing, 2020.