Over the last few years, Maria Elena Bonet has been exploring the ideas of national identity and its destruction. Taking into account the history of her family, land, and lived experience, Bonet seeks the sources of strength that can help survive in a violent environment. While often metaphorical and poetic, her work is based on actual events. The project My River, resulting from Bonet’s spiritual and creative explorations, brings together themes of ancestral and national memory, common and personal wounds, and ways of healing. The project includes three photographic series: Riverbed, Source and River Mouth. Each visualises the path of a river as a stream of life and idea of spiritual growth. All photographs were created in the alternative technique of manual photography printing, cyanotype.
It took Bonet two years to complete the project and over this time, it has evolved from the author’s inner monologue into a study of Belarusian identity. Just as a narrow stream turns into a river and flows to wards the sea, Bonet recognizes herself, her family and ancestors, and finally her descendants and unites them with a single blood – the pure waters of the Neman River. With inspiration and trust in herself, Bonet has created something more than an exhibition project: a fair answer to the search for one’s roots and confidence not just in the future, but also in the past. The use of cyanotype in this project is not accidental. The author’s reading of a now almost-forgotten technique has filled the works with sacred poetry, and the surrealism of the images has eradicated the laws of time and space, uniting together the past, the present and the future “I.” The consonance of the blue colour of the cyanotype and the blue reflection of the sky in the water turns the exhibition into a river of our collective memory, flowing alongside the ancient shores towards the eternal sea, where freedom awaits all.
In addition to printed works, the project includes two short films. The first one is Radunitsa, named after the Belarusian day of commemoration of the departed. According to the artist, the celebration of family and respect for intergenerational links are what makes life truly fulfilling, revealing a more complete representation of ourselves and contributing to the formation of independent worldview. The second film, My River – is a journey along the shores of personal memory, intuition, and desire. During filming, Bonet followed the length of the Neman River – from source to river mouth, to the Baltic Sea. The atmosphere creates a rhythm, and in the midst of the elements one becomes a part this rhythm. The dance of the stream – always different, and yet monotonous – is the dance of time. “I float beside it, I float in it and against it until time completely disappears in me, until time becomes me. The one invited to dance with the river becomes the dance,” the artist explains.