Journey into the Crossroads | Terence Tavares (third of three articles)

At a recent Massachusetts Alliance for Portuguese speakers event, I came across the work of Terence Tavares, a brilliant young artist from Roxbury whose three-piece series called “Journeys” called loud and direct from the crossroads.

In the first article, I wrote about Tavares’s illustration of three core stages of journey, themes that mirror other epic journeys through the crossroads. In the second article, I covered Tavares’s artistic influences, the theme of the crossroads and his multi-limbed traveling figure, and the importance that Tavares sees in giving back to the community. In this final article (‘final’ for now, that is, as I’m sure there will be more to share on this extremely talented artist), I want to include some aspects of Tavares’s artistic process which, to me, is a process that involves departures from multiple media and is a process that involves the translative.

Indeed, like his travelling subject in the three-piece series, Tavares too departs on a series of journeys in terms of his process. He reflects on his multiple phases of creation, all of which resemble translations of translations, media shifting into other forms of media: “I feel with intaglio printing I can get my original image accurately translated onto paper.” Sometimes he sketches and then refines the sketches on paper, researches textures, re-sketches, joins papers, and then maps out what he will carve into wood and use as the print block. A cartography of contours, tone, and shading emerges and embeds itself in the printing block which he covers with paint.

In a way, Tavares’s wood carved surface—bare of paint—resembles the space of transfer that translators learn to straddle: a ‘space between’ languages and cultures that translators feel at home in. Tavares has chosen the shapes and forms through multiple drawings, he has carved them in the wood (in a reverse process, that is, because protruding pieces of wood leave deep impressions, those deeply carved areas leave lighter areas once paint is applied), all the while thinking ahead to the ways in which paint will add texture and meaning to the final print. It is an intricate map, made through an inverted process, that, once paint is applied, takes on a new life and language. Tavares essentially translates his hoped or intended print—his story of journey, of overcoming obstacles, of self-transformation that leads to leading a life of giving—into the wood carving act. And that wood surface, apparently fixed, is the ‘transfer’ space that generates the image.

This geometric mapping is the representation of the travelling subject’s vision: the journey that is his and, simultaneously, ours as viewers. To share this travelling subject’s vision of the world—layered, objects from great distances rushing across time and space, distant past racing into the present—Tavares too journeys into the different dimensions of his media. It is a story (autobiographical and rooted in memory, as the artist shared) of the crossroads and of journeys, a ‘translation’ of that experience into visual code, rendered through a process of geometric translation from drawing to carving to print form.

These journeys and translations (translations that mirror Dr. Mazen Naous’s enlarged concept of tarjama, the Arabic word for ‘translation’ that connotes biography and memory), in terms of theme and process where wood patterns the frame for Tavares’s storytelling, have ended up creating an inter-text of sorts. Suddenly Journeys participates in a body of Afro-Atlantic literature rooted in the crossroads, in translation—this visualization, then, is part of a relationship of texts across languages, cultures, and media. Tavares’s gazing subject who weighs the possibilities of the crossroads, in this sense, has another aspect of “translation” in that Journeys could also be seen as a visualization of what characters of the crossroads are seeing when they look into the future: Tan-Tan of Midnight Robber (Nalo Hopkinson), Chago of Chago de Guisa (Gerardo Fulleda León), Carlos and Riley from Salsa Nocturna (Daniel José Older), and the other figures of the novels I’m trying to follow and one day understand. These texts (visual, written, oral, performed) are engaged, intentionally or not, in a relationship across languages and cultures, a dialogue that gives that ‘an extra reach’ much like the phantom limbs rendered visible in the Journeys series.

Tavares is another artist linked to a body of literature centered on the crossroads and what his figure sees along his transformational journey mirrors, adapts, “signifies on” (Gates) the work of other African Atlantic artists. And like Hopkinson, Fulleda León, Older, and other creative geniuses, Tavares is joining that conversation across languages and cultures. It is a conversation in and of translation, too: the crossroads necessitates translation and translator figures.


“Journeys” was a return to the crossroads that I have been listening to and trying to learn from across the African diaspora and the key sign, in hindsight, that I have to return to that writing that began so many years ago. The Sirocco writing projects started with the intention of promoting local artists and organizations doing great work. That activity has brought me “forward” (not ‘back’) to ideas on the crossroads, translation, and inter-textual dialogues that have that ‘phantom limb’ reach and it culminated in the Journeys series. For that, I thank Terrence and all of the artists, legacies, and organizations that let me write about them over the past few months while my own writing projects took on shape and form.

Next up, a series on the Portuguese word “Saudade”–it’s world of emotive meaning, journeys, and translatability–which began with a post yesterday! If you like this article and the themes, please “Like” SiroccoBlue on the Facebook page!

This Series “Journey into the Crossroads” was written in English by Jacob Dyer Spiegel. I write this because people’s browsers set in Portuguese or any other language are reading the machine translation powered by WordPress and there are most definitely some awkward moments there!


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