In April, Barnard was treated to an on-campus art exhibition that brought together childhood, memory, forgetting, and longing in a way that was equally poignant and beautiful.
everything left unsaid, an independent project created by Grace Li ’24, was installed at the Movement Lab in the Milstein Center for Teaching and Learning with support from the lab’s Student Artists in Residence Program. It incorporated scans of the Li family archive, childhood videos, and film photography to explore Li’s experience growing up in Nashua, New Hampshire, as a first-generation Chinese American daughter to two Chinese immigrants.
Li, a computer science and English double major, began the project three years ago during their senior year of high school. Yet it really flourished during the most unexpected of times: the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“During quarantine, I was back in my childhood home,” said Li. “After going to boarding school, I never expected to return home for so long. As a result, I used photography and my family’s archives to explore my changing relationships with my parents and the places I call home.”
Below, find Li’s artist’s statement, as well as selected images from the project that they describe as “a reflection of my own growth and understanding of my family history and relearning how to live together during the pandemic.”
This work was born out of a desire to better understand my relationship with my parents. My mom began working in China in 2002 — the year that I was born. My dad raised me and my brother, who is six years older [than I am].
My dad is a quiet man. I don’t remember speaking to him when I was growing up, but he always seems to be there in the corner of my memories. My dad recorded most of our home videos and photos. He was always holding our old camcorder or a camera. It is because of him that I was able to go through [our] archive of family images and home videos.
I didn’t know my mom that well growing up. She would split her time between Beijing and Nashua, spending a few months there and then a few months here. The summers [were when] I had three months of uninterrupted time with her. During the pandemic, I spent over a year with her.
I started working on this project [during] my senior year of high school to explore the places that raised me. I photographed my home on Polaroids and 35mm color film. Most of the photographs document surreal environments in my house, or around my neighborhood, devoid of human presence. I was focused on capturing scenes that reflected the quietness and loneliness of growing up.
During the pandemic, I continued expanding the project to document my changing relationship with my home. After leaving for boarding school, I don’t really remember what it was like growing up. Returning home in the midst of the pandemic and living with both of my parents, who I hadn’t spent much time with, I was relearning my relationship with [them] and reflecting on how this home has shaped me.
The work you are about to see is a compilation of childhood photos and Polaroid photographs, as well as some of my journal entries and my own writing. This work is still unfinished, but I hope you can enjoy a preliminary viewing of everything left unsaid.
Selected images from ‘everything left unsaid’
this is the binder of my childhood photos and crafts
there’s so much that I don’t remember, but my body remembers the happiness
it’s hard to imagine my parents as young adults trying to navigate a life together
revisiting these photographs, i try and remember what i felt back then
but often times, i have no recollection of the event
I don’t remember my dad like this in my memories
but i used to pick acorns here with my brother
i would gather them in my toy stroller
all in a day’s work
the wildness, the carefreeness, the joy
the calendar says september, so the cake is probably for my mom
i think growing up for me has been trying to reclaim some of these moments for myself