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Opening the window, the white bird flies in

A personal response to visiting the late Partou Zia's exhibition at the Exchange, Penzance: by artist-friend Kate Walters.



Partou, my dear, I brought you sweet-peas, the last of the year, and you stood at the door in your nightdress and dressing gown. It was your Birthday, the last day I saw you. You looked surprisingly well. You sent me a text message calling me ‘sweet pea’. I have the message still. Our meetings are different now, and just as memorable.

How the skies see us as we sleep, as we dream; I swirl around on the threshold, caught in mist as I arrive. Up the stairs slowly, I peep around the corner, and there you are: frail, fractured, brave, strong. Your beret, your necklace ; the lines of your cheek, neck, shoulders become increasingly angular -  crooked, sliding, collapsing;  each stroke a cry, an affirmation, a plea, an interrogation; from your drawings you spill into the space, into me.  I feel shock at the strength of your presence.

Yesterday in my studio I picked up a book about Frida Kahlo. I opened it, read a little, found out that the reason she made self-portraits, even from girlhood, was to remind people of her, to ensure she wouldn’t be forgotten, even though she was an intense, brilliant and beautiful person.  It is as if she couldn’t feel that she was memorable. She made self-portraits unto the end. Perhaps she was also reminding herself that she was in her body, in this life, since she so nearly lost it. Infants who do not bond strongly with their primary carer often find it easy to travel to more subtle regions; in their early separation they disappear to a place they can return to later, at will. I wonder how much you shared with Frida?

A lamp, a light switch, a flag: you describe. A hand caressing a book, or hands which bless and pray; soothe. The book is black or red or tan, white pages thick, frothy as surf, the sea contained, each book is painted with the utmost certainty and conviction, and it will not pass away. The book might be the Bible, or another sacred text; your knowledge and living of the parables, poet’s sisters. Painted breath, spirit or poem  – pink parting of the blue - shapes you suggested in paint – do they breathe beside you now?

A Little bed in a field. I formed a view of this painting which was different from that implied by the title, Fenced Horizons.  I saw your quest for learning, your married peace, your ease with Nature, your home as garden; I saw dawn on the coverlet, so I ask, through sleeping or sun-rising shall we know?  

The Angel and you.  The trees lean towards you, in reassurance.  The voluptuous hills your witnesses also; this earthly womb which you loved so much is about to propel you into the heavens. But there is strain on your face. The angel swoops down, you are pinioned, wings outstretched.  

The bowl, the book, the fence: articles of containment, painted with certainty. You painted yourself towards the end as either a line containing all, transparent, duality vanished away:  or with greater solidity, yet bloodless, rock-like, ageless as granite. Do we see your oscillation between fury, despair, longing, and atonement laid out before us in this work?

“I can’t speak of it yet”, you once said to me. Are you speaking of it now, here?

(I advised you to keep the window closed, to not let the white bird in)





more images from the Exchange can be seen in the 'exhibitions' section http://www.artcornwall.org/exhibitions/Partou_Zia.htm