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TO MY DAUGHTER YASSINE

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My daughter Yassine Aisha is half Senegalese. She was almost 3 when se took her first self-portrait. I was taking one with both my kids, and she said "Mom, now I want to make one of me alone". She chose the setting, I placed my Rolleiflex on the tripod, and just wound to the next picture after each shot. She was 3 years old at the time, the age in which children begin to feel like individuals, separate from their mother. She had just come back from her 3 month trip to Senegal with her dad. Her sister and I are white and her father is black, so she probably feels different from us all. I thought it was essential for her to make a solemn statement of her existence. I see the brown of her skin (Africa is warm) and the blue of the wall (Europe is cold) as confirming the union of opposites. Her body looks older and seems to express both the strength and tiredness of a child who’s been living in such different continents.

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She didn’t take any more significant self-portraits for a while. Then at 7, again just after coming back from Senegal, she shot another series. The most powerful picture is the one in which she was wearing her Senegalese trousers. I think here again she was intuitively talking about being different, being half-African, half-European, and having learned to create her own inner roots.

I've always had a difficult relationship with Yassine. She is just like me (if I didn't control myself a little...): very demanding, dependent on people, easily enraged, often complaining. On the other hand, she is incredibly strong, energetic and joyful. She loves to help and protect smaller children and immediately feels solidarity when she sees anyone crying. I've had to raise her on my own, with no unpaid help. I remember photographing sports events with Yassine and her baby-sitter, so that I could breastfeed when she asked to.

 

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In my worst moments I rejected her, and I still do sometimes... So I usually take relationship self-portraits with her, to express this rejection, in order to free myself from it and express the essence of our bond.

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