How Ancestral Connection Influences Creativity

Has someone ever asked you a really good question, a simple question even, that taps into that deep place inside of you and inspires a sudden realization of self or epiphany? I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by Sera of SunMoon; an apothecary and thoughtfully curated online shop of beautiful things from Sera’s ancestral land of Morocco. [personal note: I’m hooked on this, this, and this.]

Sera asked me four, simple yet really good questions about my relationship with Hina Luna and how it overlaps with my relationship to my self, the earth, and the realm of magic. The process of sitting with these questions and allowing the answers to come forth was akin to a time-lapse video of the gentle unfurling of rose petals; layer upon layer opening up to reveal the center, the heart, il cuore.

The one in particular that allowed for a deep reflection into what feels like my current overarching wellspring of inspiration was this:

How has your ancestry or heritage played into your craft?

My answer, this:

I became aware of the creative presence of my ancestry about just some years ago [but I have to laugh because the more I deepen into this work, I realize it’s been a significant influence all along.] At that time I was beginning to deepen into my journey of researching my ancestry, with a focus on my father’s matrilineage from Italy. Part of that has been studying the language, talking to my living relatives, and preparing for an ancestral pilgrimage in early March of 2020 [which heartbreakingly was cancelled three days before departure due to the pandemic].

But it was really at this anticlimactic point of not making it to Italy after all that I immersed myself back in to Hina Luna and consciously took my ancestors with me. In my studies prior to my would-be departure date, there were passages in books that made me cry because I felt in my bones an affirmation, a deep knowing; I saw my grandmother [who’s passed] and her way explained to me and I felt closer to her. My work with Hina Luna didn’t necessarily change because of this, but rather I just became more aware of the ethereal “why” behind my process and embraced it.

A little backstory: Let’s start at the very beginning — not long ago and yet generations old.

My journey into connecting with my ancestors and their homelands deepened significantly in my late twenties. For me, committing to ancestry work has looked like more talk and conjuring of memories with living relatives, asking more questions, growing a family tree by digging for buried puzzle pieces, and reflecting on what details I do have to better understand the complex humans who came before me. While excited to learn about all branches of my genetic history, my paternal mother’s side in particular has forever called me and is where I’ve chosen to focus.

Immigrating from the Bel Paese, the beautiful country lands of Italy, in the early 1900’s, my great grandparents instilled my California raised family with the culture of their motherland. Like many immigrants in North America at the time, my ancestors were victims of assimilation and yet still a glimmer of the magic from their homeland survived generations. Great grandparents, even great-great grandparents, great aunts and uncles, and cousins all lived within blocks of one another if not in the same houses. My great grandmother taught my grandmother and my mother and my aunt how to cook. They tell me stories of her kitchen drawer dedicated to holding loose flour for baking and making pasta, and of my great grandfather being the designated Parmesan grater. Their daughter, my grandmother now gone, was a treasure to me and modeled a deep love for music, good food in good company, and steeping one’s life in beauty — all things, that now I realize are quite naturally Italian. Although she never made it to the place her family was from, she carried so much of its best qualities within her. 

 

An aerial view of an Italian town along the river

 

Cultivating relationship leads to creative collaboration

I cultivate my relationship with all of these figures through my creativity — in the kitchen, in the garden, in my home, through music, by experiencing simple pleasures. Because some of my access to information about my ancestors is limited, in an effort to know them more intimately I have been studying their language. It is profoundly empowering to speak from my lips the words my ancestors spoke, to light incense for them at my altar every evening and greet them with Buonasera miei antenati [good evening, my ancestors].

They appear through my work with Hina Luna in the forms of color palette, the imagery I carve for block printing, and the names I give to new pieces. They inspire resourcefulness through my efforts to use pre-loved linens for some of my textile work. They teach me the value of community and solidarity and collective care. They have shown me the joy of living life beautifully.

Silver linings

While it still feels like a heartbreak to have missed an opportunity to make the first reconnection to my ancestral homeland in three generations, the pleasant surprise was that as life went on in that new, slow paced way of early 2020, I had more space than ever before to continue weaving together threads of ancestral connection. The potential of Italy had filled me with inspired energy that now had to be redirected and after a couple of months of setting everything down, I wandered my way back slowly to Hina Luna.

To my eye, there was no dramatically noticeable visual distinction between my work pre-Italy and post- cancelled-Italy, like Picasso’s rose period after a bout with the blues. Rather, as I’d shared with Sera, the noticeable difference was personal, internal. With the change of events, I temporarily pivoted away from the reality of travel and redirected that energy I had by consciously inviting my ancestors onto my creative terrain. The creations that resulted are aesthetically consistent with my other works, but the authenticity feels deeper, and therefore so does the intention.

There are innate qualities in myself that I have inherited from being raised by the children of the children who came from this place I so desire to go to; their ancestral influence over my life is inevitable; it’s who I am. Although it’s been present in my creativity all along, by consciously deciding to invite in and welcome their energy into my space, I could begin to step into my role as facilitator in cultivating a relationship between my ancestors and my creative work. To witness magic requires presence, and I was freshly aware and receptive to experiencing my ancestors work through me.

Remembering as ritual

Coincidentally, I write this on the five year anniversary of my grandmother’s passing and on the eve of the spring equinox; what a paradox of life and death, of beginning and ending. I am carrying with me today a tender heart full of gratitude for a long time together and for the lessons she likely unknowingly taught me. I experience her creatively when adorning myself or while in the kitchen, especially with good music on. I delight in remembering her sauntering and swaying about her modern black and silver kitchen, crooning with eyes closed, fingers snapping slow above her head in a dreamy state of Bossa Nova.

 

My grandmother in her natural state as dinner host

[La bella figura: My grandmother, always the elegant host — and also admirably unafraid of making a mess in the kitchen.]

 

I still read articles and passages in books about Italian life and well up with mixed feelings of overwhelming love, self recognition, and a melancholy for things I do not yet know in this lifetime but that feel familiar to my bones, my DNA, my ancestral memory. When I am activated by the color palette of an Italian landscape, the ochre rainbow of the buildings, or read a sensual description of the most delectable dessert or dish of pasta, or am consumed by an ode to the cultural admiration and devotion to all that is beautiful and to the importance of rest and a good meal, I filter it through my creative lens and into what I offer to you through Hina Luna.

 

A view of the ochre colored rooftops of Lucca, Italy

[one of my Italian ancestral provinces, Lucca, Toscana [Tuscany], inspiring with its color palette of ochre, umber, and warm butter yellows and golds.]

 

Before there was the awareness of the thread line connecting parts of myself to my ancestral land — the parts of me that, put simply, desire to create and curate beauty and a life of quality and simplicity — there were the lines connecting me to my nearer circle of family, like my grandmother. Our shared passion for the art of adornment and the simple pleasures of food, music, and good company, have woven together with the fibers of all parts of my creative being. As I responded in my interview with Sera, ancestral influence has always affected my life as an artist, even when I hadn’t yet acknowledged it. Although now that I have, my creative experiences feel richer, more authentic, and purposeful, like a collaboration that spans lifetimes and defies linear time; nothing short of magic.

Even though it is only recently that I have recognized my ancestors influence on who I am and how I move in this world, their impact has indeed been great and constant and makes up the foundational roots of Hina Luna. And now that I see and feel the thread connecting me to them, I say my thanks by creating and curating beautiful things that both serve and inspire conversation with spirit; things for your body, altar, and home that may even support you in connecting to your own ancestors.

 

reflection.

Where do you see signs of your ancestors in your own life?

What attributes did you inherit from them that bring joy to your life?

Consider all of the ways you are creative in your life ["creative" meaning the act of creating something: a meal, a work of art, a garden, a written piece, constructing something...]

Are there traits that you knowingly inherited from your lineage that support your creative process? From whom did you inherit these traits?

More broadly, how might your ancestral culture(s) be present in your creative processes?

 

Read my full interview for SunMoon here

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