Marcus - The picture Treasure


My treasure is my grandmother and this is one of my favourite photographs of her from when she was young. This picture is my portal to so much.

It is funny because in many respects she is a bit like Obi Wan Kenobi; you don’t realise how powerful she was until she died. It often is the way, when certain things are close to us we don’t realise their true value until perhaps they are not physically tangible anymore.

I guess that this is kind of a portal into something, but I guess there is also a sense of fear in losing those memories… There is a kind of a process I find that the mind goes through in trying to hold on to as much as it can as much as we can… With that I can hear the words of my grandmother used to give to me which wafted over me in many respects but they have become so much more powerful now.

That for me is a treasure, in that she is speaking to me from beyond the grave, from beyond the physical realm. She was an incredible woman – just wonderful and fair. She hated injustice; she taught me so much about injustice.

One story that sticks in my head because she used to tell it with such a loving heart. It was during the war and you had all the servicemen coming over from America and she was based in London as a nurse. A lot of these servicemen were black guys and they would go out and socialise to dances and whatever else it may be, but she noticed that nobody would ever ask these black guys to go out or accompany them and she just could not understand that people would do that because these guys were here to help. So, she used to make a point of asking these black guys to musical events, dances and things like that and if you can imagine at that time the response it evoked. She told me about the response of colleagues and other ‘respectable’ people. Despite being ousted from her social circle, having it also affect her professionally at work, her response was always, ‘It’s right, and doing right is always right.’

That essence in her she instilled in me right the way through my life. I guess I could understand and relate to that from the position of being mixed race – you understand that you are neither black nor white, accepted by neither one of the communities so you kind of find yourself in a band of your own. I saw myself not being accepted by anyone at that time other than those who were close to me. But what I noticed is that this experience manifested itself to any kind of injustice. I remember kids in school who had eczema or had a funny limp or a squint in their eye or ginger hair or whatever it may be. This kind of empathy and understanding…….I guess I connected with them on that level because I knew what it felt like on some level, what it felt like to be excluded, to be ignored to be victimised.

I found this picture after my grandmother died after going through all her belongings and things. There were so many photographs and sharing them with my grandfather and hearing the stories and developing an understanding of the women who brought me life. She brought me up, I didn’t have my parents around. She took it upon herself to do that and I am completely and eternally grateful. This picture just stood out. There is something about it – her pose, her face, her nose; there is something about it that just looks quite sublime, something calm. There is an essence of her spirit that I see in her face that I couldn’t always see because I was a pain in the arse and you remember the person as a moany old woman [laughs]. But there was just so much more to her and this picture kind of reminds me there was so much more to the moany old woman and it came to me after her death.

I have often thought about what could have made her the way she was. She always taught me to be a citizen of the world. When I was going to school and they were telling me about these people on the other side of the world from different countries, she would tell me there are no boundaries – only the ideas of man which sometimes need breaking down. She was always fascinated with the world and the idea of travelling, other cultures, other languages. I suppose partly it was because she was of mixed heritage herself. Her mother was Scottish and her father was from Belgium. She was brought up in the South of England in Devon. She would have easily, I know for a fact, experienced prejudice. From what I gather her parents were quite formidable characters. Both were very studious, both became quite professional in their fields. Her father became a doctor and her mother became the head of social services at one point. They were both very much involved in people. They both travelled around so the exposure they had was likely transferred to my grandmother; the idea that it is a big world and we need to have a bit more understanding of those around us and learn from them. We are not just confined to the borders that are drawn on a map. She created this idea of this wonderment of the world. She seemed like a very inquisitive child, she had a bit of a tom-boy in her. When they lived in the country she was off building dens, making catapults, going fishing and stuff like that. She had a very adventurous heart and spirit. I imagine it was because of this upbringing and the exposure to the world made by her parents that created these values.

Accompanying the photo is this seed. My granny is the only person I have ever known to have such a strong affinity with nature. She would cry if she ever saw a tree getting cut down as she had such empathy with the tree and nature.

Josephine Mary Pourbaix