She was there

She was there. With Miles Davis in 1954.
She was there. With Chet Baker in 1961. ©2017 Mary Khan

But we soon found ourselves also turning backward, for the beautiful faces and songs that lift us forward onto new ground keep calling out to us as well, inciting us to rediscover and recover them in whatever new thing gets made. -Elaine Scarry

Dear Readers,

I have begun a series of drawings and paintings titled “She was there.”

Many moons ago, I worked in libraries and archives. My job consisted of a simple, menial task: to either file or retrieve items for researchers. Nonetheless, I found solace in university Humanities, Fine Arts, and Music collections for a period of twelve years. This was long before my interest in life writing. The Archive is where I first allowed my creative imagination to unfold.

Archival lives held within archival photographs inspired me.

For this series, I produce drawings of my favourite dancers, jazz and classical musicians, visual artists, fashion designers, and film stars from archival photographs and illustrations. I also examine my own familial photographic archive for these works. By inserting my present self in the drawn and painted images, I figuratively go back in time to recreate a life narrative. The drawings and paintings, like the original photographs and illustrations, are staged events. Yet their meanings are literal. And the conversations; the translations between the actors in the photographs and illustrations and the players in the drawings and paintings, are as tangled as they are seamless.

Thank you for listening. This project is permanent.

Yours in drawing, painting, and poetry,


May 23, 2017

Part of what makes the archive a complex text is that it is a fragmentary piece of knowledge, or an unfixed and changing piece of knowledge. Archives build: as they grow…the knowledge they produce will alter the way we read archival subjects in general, and gender in particular. -Marlene Kadar