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  • by Olivia Steckly

Rocio Graham: Tending to the garden

Rocio Graham @rociograham

Rocio Graham is a photographer based in Calgary. Born in Mexico, she emigrated to Canada in 2002, studying art at Emily Carr University and the Alberta College of Art + Design, where she obtained a Bachelor of Design in Photography.

On any given spring or summer day, you will find Rocio Graham playing in the dirt.

Coming from a Mexican family that grows food and flowers, including uncles who grow watermelons, beans, and other vegetables for exportation to the US and Canada, it was truly only a matter of time before Rocio went back to her roots in terms of working with the land. She feels she has always been very connected to the landscape and that it connects her to her home, and defines her identity. In 2002, a move to Canada from Mexico meant that Graham had to reacquaint herself with growing flowers and plants in a much harsher environment. She started to pay attention to the shifts of the seasons and observe the microclimates in her backyard.

Rocio Graham @rociograham

In 2013 after the rigorous family canning season, Graham started the painful process of mourning her garden. Late September in Calgary means the luscious greens that once graced the landscape become a tangled, brown, decaying mess. It was around this time that the idea of “canning” her flowers as a way to preserve them inspired her to think about ways to further immortalize the lifecycle of the garden. The question arose: What if, instead of fighting the cycles of nature, she could surrender to their power?

That year, Graham started to freeze her flowers to preserve them so she could revisit them whenever she wanted, to be reworked and incorporated into her art along with other organic matter. Foraging within the boundaries of her home, she began to play with different combinations of compost and discarded organic materials from her home, both of food and flowers.

Rocio Graham @rociograham

The following year, Graham’s gardening became more sophisticated as she desired a larger variety of things to forage. New plants, seeds, and heirloom varieties were introduced. She planted flower seeds according to their textures, colours and shapes. Another mode of research put into place was the comparison of her work to famed historical artists who also used the garden as inspiration: Claude Monet, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jan De Heem, Rachel Ruysch, and other Dutch still-life masters.

Aesthetically, the dramatic lighting of these still-life works seemed more appropriate to mourn the loss of the fertile garden at season’s end, but Graham soon discovered that her emotions were coming from a deeper level. Digging in the mud will unearth worms and other unexpected creatures, and in the same way, digging deeper emotionally brought to light enormous parallels between nature’s cycles and Graham’s inner garden. The inner landscape shifts and ebbs with the seasons, and as a trauma survivor, the bouts of PTSD Graham experiences are unearthed and reclaimed through gardening and art. The savage nature of still-life fits the underlying tones of her work in that the rawness of life, the flourishing and the decay, can mix together to reflect the contradictions and tensions of life and the remnants of post-traumatic stress. Feeling disconnected to her body in these moments led her to search for ways to reconnect with it, and for Graham, gardening and its labour-intensive qualities allow her to feel grounded and to access the landscape in a cathartic way. Her work is infused with metaphor and reflection and every aspect of her compositions transpires a deep intention. Her rigorous meditative art practice allows her to not only connect to the land, but ultimately, to herself.

Rocio Graham @rociograham


See more of Rocio's work:

Rocio's striking images can be seen in big and in PRINT in Calgary, as part of the EXPOSURE FESTIVAL - Alberta's festival of photography.

"When I think of Home"

Christine Klassen Gallery, Calgary

February 3- March 17, 2018

and as part of a group exhibition:

"Cultural Landscapes"

Rocio Graham, Mia Rushton, Eric Mosdchopedis

Lougheed House Museum, Calgary
Exhibition dates: February 1- 28

Gallery hours: Wed-Fri, 11-4PM

707 13 Ave SW

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