Chiara "Kiki" Mangiameli
Like so many immigrants, when I first came to the United States, I had a profound sense of being uprooted from the world of my childhood; the world that made me who I was.
There are many strategies for taking on a feeling like this. One that we are all familiar with is the process of assimilation, where little by little you adapt your life to the new world -- its habits, customs, and attitudes -- and the place and culture you grew up in gradually becomes less essential to your identity.
Another approach might be to hold on as tight as you possibly can to the world of your past, feeling that, without it, it would become impossible to understand your place in the world; that you would always feel, in some way, out of place.
But a third way, it seems to me, is to neither reject the new world nor embrace it entirely; to resign yourself, in effect, to living forever between worlds. This is the road I feel I have taken, whether by choice or by destiny.
It is sometimes a difficult and confusing space to occupy, the space between worlds. But, it is also, I feel, a place where incredible creativity is possible. Living here, we remain alive to possibilities. We grasp something that might in fact be a universal truth, but one that is less accessible to people who have not had the experience of being up-rooted: namely, that our identity is not a fixed but a fluid thing.
No doubt it was this feeling that lead me to start my career by literally inhabiting different characters, different lives, as a stage actor in Chicago and New York.
From here, it lead me to dance, Flamenco in particular: its aesthetic, its language, its drama; Its haunting guitar and vocals born out of cultural defiance and resilience. A form of expression that sees beauty in hardship and elevates that to an art form. Perhaps through my twenty year journey I was seeking to transcend any notion of identity. Not Italian, not American, not Spanish. A spirit moved by music dancing in in and out of these worlds. One cannot, after all, quite nail down what a dance "means." And this, to me, felt truest to what I know of life.
I married very late in life. As I think about this now, I think it has to do with the fact that, when we are young, marriage is presented to us so often as the solution to our doubts; the place where our final adult identity will be forged, once and for all. I dreaded such a place, by instinct. To be someone with a title, an address, a mortgage, a child who looked to you for stability and security; how could one be an artist within so many unwavering boundaries?
But, of course, what I learned is that marriage is not so dissimilar to a dance; an improvisation; a process of endless, subtle, minute adjustments to this other being, who never loses the capacity to thrill you by being, for the thousandth time, not who you thought they were. Being married doesn't make art impossible. Being married makes art even more essential.
And so if my artistic self finds itself now ensconced in a child's playroom instead of on a stage -- lit not by a blaze of of beam lights but by an afternoon sun sinking below the branches of trees -- it is no less intense; no less expressive; no less momentous.
Now, instead of rhythms and beats, I learn about the weight and feel of different yarns. I find a way to fit them together that is all my own. I make something that is an expression, in color and pattern, of what it feels like to be alive, with no possibility of ever knowing what it means.
Want to stay in touch? Check the news page for events or sign up to receive my Newsletter below...
John R Boehm Photography©