Painting by Mandy Merzaban, Oil on Canvas, 2011
I received the greatest birthday present of my life last week. My younger sister re-created a moment of my childhood in a painting depicting me as a baby celebrating my first birthday with my mom and elder sister. The three of us are kneeling before the living room table of our apartment in a suburb of Toronto, Canada. My mom had covered the table with a selection of fruits and pastries placed carefully upon a table cloth, which she always did when we had guests over.
It is a painting rich in colour, detail and memory. For much of my childhood we had this bright, flower-print red couch with two matching side chairs bought when my parents first immigrated to Canada from Egypt in the late 1970s. My father was completing his Master’s degree in electrical engineering and my parents were living in a small apartment in Ontario, where they had their first two daughters.
The couch was my mom’s first furniture purchase after marriage and she recalls being very excited with it. As we moved from one city to another with my dad’s changes in employment, my sisters and I wore down that couch, which my parents gave away about 10 years the birthday party depicted here. But in this painting, it was still brand new, much like I was at the time.
It was wonderful to watch my younger sister recreate this moment on a canvas with oil paints, paying attention to many intricate details – my mom’s lovely features and thick auburn hair wrapped in a braided bun on the side of her head, the table cloth that appears in many photographs through the years and is still stored in a dining room cabinet.
Rather than being tucked away in a photo album that is rarely opened, this moment of family history will now be framed and hung in my own living room to become part of my present and future.