On Lamentation 4 (Lift Me Up Let Me Go)

By Tatiana Garmendia

“Lamentation 4 (Lift Me Up Let Me Go)” is one in a series of Sumi Ink on handmade Okawara paper drawings that I began in 2011. I am still actively engaged in the series.

All the lamentations explore notions of pietà in the aftermath of 9/11 and the ensuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unlike agit prop, these drawings are not invested in proclaiming a political agenda or philosophic truth. Instead, they wrestle with the conflicting moral intuitions and intractable violence that mark our age, asking questions that do not necessarily have clear-cut answers. Traditionally, the pietà intends to inspire pity and sorrow in the viewer.

The models for this drawing, as they are for all the lamentations in my series, are veterans from the War on Terror or family of veterans. An intangible element of the work is getting seasoned veterans and their families to assume postures of exaltation or despair. My intention is for the role-playing to provide a way for their bodies to express fear, guilt, and relief in a context of creative collaboration. If there is any power in the ensuing work to evoke an emotional response in the viewer, it comes from this place.

For this piece, I showed my models a picture of Carracci’s Pietà and although they did not copy his composition, they ended up mirroring the pyramidal principle that organizes the original.

In Lamentation 4 (Lift Me Up Let Me Go) a woman wearing a burqa sits in the role of what in the Western art cannon would be the Virgin Mary, the sorrowful mother cradling the dead Christ. Behind her stands a figure clothed in white. I think of her as Lady Liberty, looking beyond the pitiful scene at her feet to peer anxiously at an uncertain future. In real life, this young woman’s  father is still in active duty. Like the figure in this composition, she waits tensely for news of his tour. Reaching forward as if to help is another figure. It is not clear whose uniform he wears.

The wounded soldier in the foreground, the subject of all this mourning and worry, leans his head into the body of the woman in the burqa. One of her hands supports his head as the other holds his arm up. Below him, like spilled blood, blooms a red ink pattern culled from an Islamic prayer rug. Behind them all, written in white ink are lyrics culled from Linkin Park’s song, The Catalyst:

Lift me up, let me go
Lift me up, let me go
(And it can’t be out fought, it can’t be outdone)
(It can’t be outmatched, it can’t be outrun, no)
Lift me up, let me go

I created this series because I live in a country at war with radicalized Islam. Through my work as a teacher, I keep coming into contact with young men and women returning from the war front. Bidden or not, they have sacrificed much to defend the freedoms and privileges I enjoy each and every day. I meet the lucky ones. The ones who have returned alive.

But I have yet to meet any who were not powerfully transformed by their experience of war. Most bear deep psychological scars. In the same teaching capacity, I keep coming into contact with wonderful Muslim students whose bright eyes and bright minds immediately cast aside the mask of the enemy that war would thrust upon them.

The first time I showed  “Lamentation 4 (Lift Me Up Let Me Go)”  was as part of an installation of six lamentations at the very college where I met all my models. A young Marine, recently returned from the war, wrote this to me after seeing the installation:

I have been in to see them five times….They are moving and inspiring, and they fill me with sorrow and rage.

They make me want to go back there into the fight, and they make me want to never be a part of anything like it again.

The way you can communicate exactly that which aches inside of me is beautiful.

I can think of no better aim for my studio practice than to give voice to that which aches inside this difficult subject.

"Lamentation 4 (Lift Me Up Let Me Go)," Tatiana Garmendia

“Lamentation 4 (Lift Me Up Let Me Go),” Tatiana Garmendia


About the Author: Tatiana Garmendia is a Cuban-born artist living and teaching in Seattle. She exhibits widely and is in public collections in the US and abroad. Her work is figurative and driven by existential questions that probe history and culture.

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