Olena Jennings: What is Left Behind

New York City poet Olena Jennings created a project based on a family photograph, which depicts a story belonging to her grandmother. It inspired her to design a special dress that carries a piece of the memory itself.

The project “What is Left Behind”, is a dress design with photo transfer and red lace. The family portrait is an intimate piece of history. Working on a concept so close is unique. It is inspiring from the point of view of the four individual women that it represents, the four sisters. Their gazes are emphasized as if belonging to an era, when smile wasn’t yet invented as a facial expression in photographs. The picture taking was a rather serious event. Yet the photograph served its purpose as a posing for the memory.

In the design, the black and white photo is surrounded by white and red stitches created with embroidery floss.

Photo transfer of great aunts as attached to the fabric with embroidery floss stitches. Olena Jennings, What is Left Behind.

The poem to accompany the dress is about Jennings’ grandmother receiving the family photograph. Like a message from the old country, They Bring The Photo is from the times that passed.


By Olena Jennings

She would sew the buttons
that would fall from her coat,
threads invisible as webs,
in the light that spilled
around her like milk, the warmth
she remembered from the farm,
the kittens circling
and her hands on the udders.

The visitors
gave her the photo
in a weathered air mail envelope,
their strange car in our driveway,
his kiss leaving a mark
on my cheek, letting me know
I am forbidden to touch the pillow,
the mark too special to rub off.

The surprise
was that she could be found
anywhere, that she was not
as she believed.
So, she checked beneath the beds
and in the dust in the attic,
for those who knew her whereabouts.

Her sisters’ faces in the photo
were absent of emotion, distant.
The black of their clothing reflected
in their eyes.
It was as if the space between them
was bigger
than the distance
between their countries.

Dress by Olena Jennings

Artist website: https://www.olenajennings.com/

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