“After my father’s suicide when we were 14 years old, the lives of my twin sister and my mother, as well as my own, changed radically. Every aspect of our destiny as a middle class family was interrupted by his death. We ran away on a trip, aimlessly, until arriving in Mexico. The absence became a presence among us and strengthened the bond between my sister and I that has led to a complex universe of meanings and roles, blurred memories and ideas that end up weaving an encrypted universe between fiction and reality.”
So writes fine-art photographer Mariela Sancari of her profoundly personal and much-honored series “Two Headed Horse,” which explores her relationship with her sister and their search for family and identity. The work received an Honorable Mention in the 2012 Official Selection Artemergente National Monterrey Biennale and was featured at the FotoGaleria at Teatro San Martin in Buenos Aires in a solo exhibition curated by the noted photographer Juan Travnik. Sancari’s photography was also included in a group exhibition at the 2014 FotoFest Biennial in Houston, and a related project, title “Moises,” was named a winner of the VI Bienal Nacional de Artes Visuales Yucatan in 2013, and the 2014 PHotoEspaña Descubrimientos Prize. In 2013, PDN included her on its list of 30 emerging photographers to watch. She was also named a winner of the Latin American Fotografía 2competition.
In “Two Headed Horse,” Sancari documents the journey she and her sister made—both real and metaphorical—from Argentina to Mexico. She pictures the clothing and household objects they brought and captures their newly formed identity—“one being with two visions of reality, a being that imagines it will find its dad around the corner,” she says. The images examine the way identity and memory are affected by time and space.
Sancari created the project in 2011 when she was a student at Centro de la Imagen in Mexico City under the mentoring of photographer and teacher Ana Casas Broda. She shot the images in the house of her husband´s grandmother, which, she notes, “is somehow exactly like my grandmother´s house in Buenos Aires, so it worked perfectly as the scenario for my images.” The work was made with a Canon 5D Mark II, combining both natural light and flash.
Her series “Moises” took her search for identity further, focusing on the father figure she had lost. The work was born out of what she calls a “syndrome” she and her sister shared: Having never seen their father's dead body, they came to doubt his death and believed they would suddenly meet him in the street.
The “Moises” project was done last year while Sancari was participating in an artist’s residency program in Buenos Aires. She placed advertisements in a local newspaper looking for men the age her father would have been—about 70—had he still been alive. Working in a street studio set up in the neighborhood she grew up in, she shot portraits of the men who answered her ad.
“Once we’d met, I would tell them about the project and what I need them to do but, oddly enough, many of them did not really care what was the whole thing about,” Sancari said in one interview. “They just wanted to talk and tell me their own stories. This was a big surprise, something I never expected when planning the project—facing these men’s needs, loneliness and aging processes. At this point, the project changed my way of thinking about it: It gained a profundity I did not foresee and confronted me directly against my own idealization of my father."