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Standing Naked Before Us
Standing Naked Before Us
the MASKS series

By Laura Honse

We all wear masks, just as we wear clothing, to protect our vulnerability. But sometimes we meet someone who appears to be standing naked before us with their soul bared for us to see. The attraction is usually immediate and mutual. It may last a few seconds in passing someone on the street or it may last a lifetime. When I first saw Sinuhe it was only from the back, but he immediately struck me as closely resembling the very first boy I ever fell in love with as a child growing up in Brasil. Pablo. He was my big love for twelve years, from grammar school throughout high school. His family originally came from Puebla, and I am sure that this big love heavily influenced my strong desire to see Mexico one day. His father was a well known architect, and Pablo was an extremely talented artist as far back as I can remember. Once, at a very tender age, he slipped me a note at recess in our Catholic nun school. When I opened it I saw that he had drawn in detail the most sacred region a woman has. I cried in shame as I had not yet reached puberty, and my sacred region was not yet a "Venus in furs." I still have many of the childhood notes and letters from that time, poetic and decorated with his drawings. 

I was in my early 50s when I met Sinuhe. He was in his early 20s. After having handed him my calling card he showed up at my home one afternoon to view my work, bringing with him his guitar, sketch pad and some weed. We stayed up all night drinking red wine, smoking, laughing, and it seemed we could not get the words out quickly enough from our mouths. He played guitar and sang. At the risk of sounding kitschy, he sang like an angel. I closed my eyes and listened. Not since leaving Germany had I experienced this magical quality that certain people possess. As the night wore on, I began to wonder, in my stupor, if he were not trying to seduce me. But being old enough to be his mother, I laughed those thoughts away. He gave off the aura of an innocent child. In the dark hours of the night he reached out and held my hand. He stayed for three days.

In youth is pleasure, for youth retains its fragility, its innocence, its beauty, its tenderness, its defiance of convention, its fresh spontaneity and optimism, its magic and its unique outlook on life. We were like siblings, viewing ourselves in each other. We danced madly in the middle of the night. We danced madly when we awoke in the mornings. We sang at the top of our lungs. We dressed in rags and made up our faces. Our one motivation was to create, in any possible way. Create, create, create. Sinuhe painted any surface he could find with surreal dreamscapes in vibrant colors which retain, as does Dali's work, a certain menace and dark side. He was brilliant. He was studying at the Instituto Allende but barely went to classes. He found little in common with his peers and teachers at school and a great lack of understanding and interest for the methods used in teaching there. It being the first time away from home and the tight reins of his parents he lived life as Jean Cocteau's characters in Les Enfants Terribles, creating his own reality in the space of one room high up on a rooftop, a make-believe world open to the wildest dreams and desires. He often disdained leaving this world behind for the other. Within this world, creative chaos reigned supreme. This one rooftop room could barely be called a living space. There was just room enough for a narrow shelf on the far side wall under which a cot was shoved. Whoever was unlucky enough to sleep on the sagging mattress against the wall could not sit up for fear of hitting their head against the shelf. It was a true artist's studio in the old school sense of the word: minimalist and reeking of poverty, but unsurpassable in its magnetic attraction to all it contained. Every surface was like a small artistic tableau in the way things were arranged and juxtaposed: empty wine bottles, cigarette butts, the costumes he sometimes wore, the remains of meals, books, sketches carelessly stored under the bed, his guitar, bits and pieces of nature he brought in and everywhere his art. He shared a kitchen with other roof tenants if it could be called a kitchen: a filthy room with a sink, a hot plate, two or three scorched pans with the handles missing, and jars as drinking vessels. Nearly everything he owned had paint on it. I liked to cook for him as he was as poor as a church mouse and coming from a typical Mexican family, it was his mother or hired help who had always cooked. Yet whatever he attempted to cook himself, in its imaginative simplicity and doled out in whatever bizarre vessel aimed at serving as a dish, tasted good. In this same way, the poverty in his life took on a surreal, magnificent and magical quality, enhanced by his ability to view it as being so.

One Sunday I came across Sinuhe at the Jardin. He had just sold a small painting at the art market for a pittance to an American woman and was thrilled. His first sale ever. I was aghast. How could he sell one of his best paintings, without even documenting it, for next to nothing? The 350 pesos he earned barely covered expenses of creating the work. During this time, my solo photo exhibition, Paradise Lost, was up at Bellas Artes. He was a part of it, in a portrait I had done of him holding that very painting which he had just sold up to his face. One day as I happened to step into the office at Bellas Artes, I was told that an American had shown interest in buying a photograph of mine. But, since they were not a gallery and did not involve themselves in the selling of my work, they had not given out any information on how to contact me. Some time later, I got a call from a woman in San Miguel who was a friend of the potential buyer. The potential buyer had returned to Chicago, but I was given her number and urged to call her. Which I did. The photograph this woman was interested in buying was my portrait of Sinuhe, and she told me the story behind her reason for wanting to buy it. One day she had gone to the Jardin and bought a painting from a young boy. She told me she had bought it incredibly cheaply. Then she happened to see my exhibition at Bellas Artes and recognized that very same painting she had bought in my portrait of him, holding it before his face. She thought that it would be lovely to own both pieces of work. I told her that was wonderful. She then asked my price and I said, well, it was not going to be as cheap as her first art purchase in the Jardin had been. When I stated my reasonable price for a high quality print one meter in length and framed she balked. Oh, the tight-fisted tourists of San Miguel, always looking for a deal. 

For awhile, Sinuhe was the son I always wanted and a youthful lover who brought magic and energy back into my life. But his parents pulled him out of art school for not applying himself and he returned to DF. In his portrait, he is masked. But one has only to look at his hands to see the artist: sensitive, capable hands with sensuous, long fingers. When I meet a man I am attracted to, I always look at his hands. This image was spontaneously photographed on his roof, right outside his room, where a tiny table covered in paint was set up as a work and dining table. The background is an old tarp that was hanging on the wall to a storage room. My photographs have never been snapshots. They are stories I want to tell. This is the story I have to tell about how Sinuhe appeared for a short, unforgettable time in my life.

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Laura Honse is an American visual artist. After twenty years in Germany, where she had her own gallery, she relocated to Mexico and now lives in San Miguel de Allende. Her photography has been exhibited at El Nigromante Bellas Artes, Art Print and Instituto Cultural de Leon. Her photography, collage, rebozos and jewelry are displayed in her home which is open to the public by appointment.

Calle Homobono 2, corner of Animas
Zona Centro
Cell: 415 1190405

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