My mom has been sending a selfie every day that she’s been able since her emergency surgery in late July 2020. It’s been a hell of a year. Because of the pandemic I haven’t seen her, and she doesn’t want to be seen—at least not fully. The selfie will have to do, it says enough. How she is feeling is up to the eye of the beholder, the facts of her illness she will haltingly discuss with me on the phone, the ugly physicality of the thing is something she knows I will listen to. The general “I am here-ness” of her daily selfie is the perfect Gwendolynism, my term for her being neither too close nor too distant. Gwendolyn is always summarily her own being. The five to seven of us on the ongoing family SMS text thread reply to her with a patchwork of responses, hours long tallies of the day: “here is our weather”, “here is a new household item”, “here is our cat”, heart emoji, heart emoji, thumbs up emoji. We are here too. Maybe we are fine. “At least you don’t have Covid” closed eye face emoji.

We all (in my immediate family) have dissociative disorders that make in-person contact pretty mumbly affairs. With the Covid-19 virus wreaking havoc in so many lives, and the related shutdowns dismantling the social fabric, and in parental parlance, “with everything else that’s going on”; meaning social unrest, social distancing and the President, my mother has never been more accessible, a thousand miles away on a video conference call in a time of crisis.

Gwen is 83 next year, her selfies are ongoing daily as is her treatment, and they have become both a window into her self-image and the hub around which I gather something resembling fortitude.

Kara Walker was born in Stockton, California in 1969. She was raised in Atlanta, Georgia from the age of 13 and lives and works in New York. Walker studied at the Atlanta College of Art (BFA, 1991) and the Rhode Island School of Design (MFA, 1994). She is the recipient of many awards, notably the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Achievement Award in 1997 and the United States Artists Eileen Harris Norton Fellowship in 2008. In 2012, Walker became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her work can be found in numerous museums and public collections including The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Tate Gallery, London; the Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo (MAXXI), Rome; and Deutsche Bank, Frankfurt.