Exhibit — Sara Berman's Closet
There have been hundreds of times in the years since Aleisha died when I wished we’d been able to preserve her bedrooms. I can remember the Post-It notes stuck to the mirror in her room at dad’s, the book Wicked on her nightstand with a bookmark poking out halfway through. Her backpack on the floor at the foot of her bed at mom’s, notebooks and papers spilling out. Her blue prom dress in the closet, the pictures of she and the Owls Head girls on the nightstand beside her bed.
I can close my eyes and walk around that room of hers still. I can see every detail, but I wish it existed in the world today, so I had a space to be surrounded by her objects, her energy. But we’re told that when someone dies, we’re meant to go through their things — keep this, let go of that, and pack all that’s left into a box. You’re supposed to snap the lid on tight and store it in the attic. Otherwise, there are some who will call you crazy. They’ll say you’re bordering in an in-between space. That you can’t let go. They will mean this to be a bad thing.
I think this is part of the reason that the Sara Berman’s Closet exhibit was so compelling to me — because it was the opposite of that. It wasn’t the packing up, the getting rid, the storing away— it was the preservation of it all.
The act of creating the exhibit, of deciding that it was worth creating, is itself revolutionary. Or it felt that way to me. To say that the lived experience of one rather ordinary woman (but, of course, not ordinary at all) was worth preserving — that it is art — it felt as radical.
For there, in a museum with a capital M, there is one woman’s recipe box full of worn index cards. There are the three watches she’d wear all at once, so she always knew what time it was in Israel where her sister lived too. There are her perfectly pressed white linens and the stacks of cozy white sweaters. There are the rows of white and tan shoes. And then, a stack of letters, presumably from Shoshana, her sister, and a half-empty bottle of Chanel No. 05.
The closet itself was a tiny gallery of memory and beauty that Sara had made for herself. (She didn’t know any of us would be staring at it this many years later.) And this act, the act of claiming yourself worthy of beauty and your memories worthy of preservation, it too seems a radical one.
And then there is the fact that the exhibit was created by a mother and her son— two generations holding tight to their family’s past and creating art from it, together. The way they created this art feels important: It isn’t just their telling of her story — though it is that, too. At the center though, they are creating space for Sara to be the curator and teller of her own story. They’ve elevated her to artist. Really, this exhibit is a three-generational collaboration of bravery and memory and beauty. It’s the story of loving someone and losing them. It’s the story of all humanity in one little room.