I was born at dawn, as 'Dawn', as the sun was rising, in New York. My motherland. In Portugal, my fatherland, I am called 'Aurora'. But, my mother did not raise me. My mother took me home – smuggled me in utero, across International borders, when no one could possibly detect the made-in-Portugal-out-of-wedlock embryo she secretly hid under her dress. I spent a lifetime searching – at first internally, then actively. After locating my birth-father, he became my guide. We began retracing our biological family's footsteps, filming as a means of self-discovery (for me) and repentance (for him).
I was born at dawn, as 'Dawn', 4:30am – that, I am sure of – as the sun was rising, in Smithtown General Hospital, Long Island, New York. My motherland. In Portugal, my fatherland, I am called 'Aurora'. But, my mother did not raise me. My mother took me home – smuggled me in utero, across International borders – long before TSA's Advanced Imaging Technology was invented, when no one could possibly detect the made-in-Portugal-out-of-wedlock embryo she secretly hid under her dress. I was first fostered, then adopted, by a doting Mexican immigrant migrant worker. The oldest of 14 children, Rosa had only ever learned how to 'mother', because her own was always so busy being pregnant and nursing the others . . . while fingering her rosary beads. That's how I learned to count in Spanish. But beyond 'diez' and 'Dios', Español was prohibited in our household because it was Un-American. My adoptive father, an Italian-American cop, saved her. Married her, that is. But she wasn't able to give him children. Botched teen pregnancy? Raped by the farm owner? That was common among her tribe. The truth surrounding her hysterectomy remains vague. Her secret. Rosa holds many secrets. I learned of my adoption at age five. My older, also-adopted, brother told me. (I screamed.) But he wasn't supposed to. He must have overheard a 'grown-up' conversation. Brian; the hustler. Homeless – when I’m not supporting him and his habits. Adoption was our secret; we were told to never tell. I spent a lifetime searching – at first internally, then actively – and it's only within the past few that I have come to know my biological family. My adoptive father was a detective, after-all. He taught me well. After locating Gaspar, my birth-father, in Portugal, he became my guide. We began retracing our biological family's footsteps, filming as a means of self-discovery (for me) and repentance (for him). The compelling stories of my family lineage – spanning generations of artists, poets, politicians, law-makers, CIA informants, boarding school bastards – historicized within a cultural context. My great grandfather, for example, was an accomplished author/poet married to a countess; my grandfather, a math and science genius, Salizar's sidekick, owned the Subaru factory plus a couple of metal mines. All built from the ground up, then everything lost. Down with the revolution, chased with casks of fine Port wine. Until now, my lineage, my language, my homeland has also been lost to me. Saudade, a uniquely Portuguese term, embodied in the culture’s uniquely Portuguese music, The Fado, describes a deep sense of loss and longing for someone or something that is absent, and the hope for its return. But with it, lurks the repressed knowledge that it may never return. "Saudade is a uniquely Portuguese term that has no direct English translation. It describes a deep sense of loss, longing, lack, melancholy and nostalgia for someone, or something, that is absent.... Saudade is a distinct mark of Portuguese language and culture. It has been said that this, more than anything else, represents what it is to be Portuguese."– Bell, 1912
Brooklyn-based Visual Artist Theresa Ortolani is a PhD Candidate in the European Graduate School's Philosophy / Art / Critical Thought program and a Dean’s Scholar in the ICP-Bard MFA Avanced Photographic Studies program. She graduated cum laude from Boston University's College of Fine Arts with a BFA in sculpture and photography. Ortolani has developed and directed arts programs in conjunction with the Ansel Adams Center, the San Francisco Art Institute, NYU and SUNY. As a seven-time PDN winner and “30 Photographers to Watch” nominee (2010 - 2015), her photographs have been included in three consecutive New York Photo Festivals (2013-2015) and the Seoul International Photo Festival (2015). Klompching Gallery’s FRESH finalist, Visura Multimedia Grant first place finalist, IPA/Lucie 2nd place winner and 16 IPA/Lucie Honorable Mentions (2015) are also highlighted among her recent accolades. Ortolani’s first short film (Saudade: Name of the Father) and first monograph, Endurance (powerHouse Books), were selected as "Multimedia Winner" and "Best Book" by PDN 2016 & 2010 Annual. Both received three International Photography Award/Lucie Foundation Honorable Mentions. Her forthcoming monograph, "BOUND", and her first feature film, "SAUDADE", are in production.