The living room

In my mother’s living room, there are shelves upon which she has arranged many beautiful and extraordinary objects. There is glass-ware shot through with cobalt streaks; a tiny, broken robin’s egg; translucent, golden whelks; conch and limpet shells; dessert plates painstakingly painted as the peacock’s splendid tail; wild branches of sun- and salt-bleached coral; sea fans dried in the course of their undulation; polished stones of all colors; and a dozen egg-shaped stones of different hues and sizes nesting in a Styrofoam egg carton. My mother calls them ‘the shelves’, the objects perhaps ‘treasures’. I call the six shelves together an altar where her intuitive and artful arrangement divines power: the power of beauty itself; the power of precious objects put together to add up to more than their mere sum; the power of the stories behind each object; the power of a family and those who have blessed them and their home. Those shelves may be the presentation piece of the living-room and our family’s home, but my mother alone arranged them; they speak of her aesthetic and her eye – an aesthetic made collective as it speaks for my family to announce that this is our home, sacred and beautiful. The living-room is where she reveals who we are. . .. .

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The living-room is a presentational space but at the same time, a private one. Within a home it is also a “not” space: not the bedroom, or the bathroom, or the kitchen, which is to say, the space where you do the things that are not done in those other spaces. .”

Elizabeth Alexander Toward the Black Interior.

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