By Yasmine Shemesh
VANCOUVER — In 2015, Angela Fama packed up her 1977 GMC RV and drove across North America. The Vancouver-based artist interviewed and photographed more than 300 people from 20 different communities, sitting down with each individually to take their portrait and ask one seemingly simple question: what does love mean? The project, spurred by Fama’s own conflictions with the concept of love — trying to decipher what can be gleaned from Hollywood movies, other cultural definitions, traumatic sexual experiences — became a personal journey that explored the many corners of the heart.
The project, appropriately titled What Is Love, first exhibited in 2015 and showed a selection of portraits with their corresponding responses to the question. Now, just in time for Valentine’s Day, Fama will share all 300 images from her project.
“I hope that sharing the project now will allow for the conversation of one’s personal experience of love to be reflected on sincerely, from a different perspective, and hopefully re-looked and shared repeatedly throughout the year, not just this time particular time of year,” Fama explains, adding that, yes, even Valentine’s Day’s “red heart motif” perspective deserves be accepted.
For Fama, the definition of love has grown to be something much larger than she could communicate through spoken language or even conceive. “It encompasses life, death, and all the great unknowns,” she says. “So, saying that, for me in this precise moment, love is something I am still understanding as it changes. Currently, personally, I am seeing the aspects that encompass self-love and acceptance of all the bits and pieces, dark and light, within myself, the community that surrounds [the world] as good spots to start trying to tap into the greater expanse of that great unknown that is love. It ended up being a waaaaaay bigger subject that I thought when I started, and obviously from the track I took, I thought it was a big subject to start with!”
Fama maintains that each encounter that she had working on What Is Love was equally touching and special. There was one in particular, though, that was truly serendipitous. Fama was in Ottawa, where she grew up, at the Tulip Festival — an event she frequented as a child. She heard music that was both familiar and comforting, but couldn’t place it. She saw a man with a guitar and asked if she could interview him for her project. “I found out through sitting with him he’s an old friend of my mother’s,” she continues. “He’d been told of us and had tried to find us, couldn’t, and was heading out the back door home when I came up to him. Once we started chatting, I remembered him from my childhood, and of course the music before had been familiar because it was him. My mother’s a musician as well, and we’d gone to many festivals when I was younger where this man had been part of the same musical community.”
The man shared his positive outlook on life and how he laughs in the face of a challenge. “A large part of this project has been allowing a safe space to openly communicate and share past perceived differences and preconceptions, the highs and lows, and everything in-between that love encompasses,” Fama says, “and having him sit that day was perfectly timed as the journey to capture these shares had been wearing on me and it was a breath of familiar, calming air within the shuffle.”
“I have learned so much through this project,” she adds. “I feel it changes every second and if I take the time to check, every one of the answers shared in this project passes through me and then some. The answer is so small and so large all within itself. I believe every answer touches in one way on a much more expansive thing that is completely indescribable, but as humans we will always seek to understand that great unexplainable [love].”
What Is Love opens online to the public on February 14. View it at www.angelafama.com/whatislove.html.BC, British Columbia, What Is Love