In 1968 when he was 12 years old, Juan Cordosa was given a carved wood open palmed hand by his father who had been asked to whittle an effigy of La Gaudalupe for the funeral procession of his grandmother Loli Enstarada, a woman most sought after, for her visions of past present and futures, her dialogue with animal spirits and her curative powers unlocked on the chew of pejote. His father carved cactii hammered with masonry nail needles and small mushrooms at the feet of the Madonna. Her face, a serene and pastel painted plaster. Her red satin embroidered robes with painted gold symbols were recreated from his grandmother's scratches on parchment, on dirt, on cloth when she was giving voice to the voices and informed eyes to the visions. Ex votos were sewn to the dress. The polished brass anatomies beaconed light like daylight stars that the dog would chase for a hollow meal in the open court yard where Cordosa's father worked and his large extended family lived.
It was reckoned that there was a certain magic in Cordosa's father having carved two left hands for the statue, but his three aunts didnt share the omen as being fortuitous and so the chalked flushed fleshed hand was given to Juan in secrecy. His father, a widower, believed differently. It was because of this secret, a hidden history of the left hand of the Guadalupe began, and remained until now.
An intimate journey of Juan Cardosa was collaged, painted, sketched on a palmists mound. The blistered hand, bulbous and deformed sits on a counter in his cousins bodega in Brooklyn, under an upturned clear plastic tube framed by the macaroon tray, the fat freckles of pork scratchings under cloth and a stack of milkshake tumblers.
The mosaic of fruit tiles on the back wall give an iPOD trance dancing hispanic boy, with his curve of a shaved head underneath the scant cornicopia of a lemon, sliced red melon and two bananas, jiving a jointless stride, the look of an animated Posada.
Histories are seeking no future in this neighbourhood. An enclave of caged and squat tenaments house the periphary of the ghetto of the Hassids. Oversized chandeliers can be seen through the bars of the second floor windows-a competition of light-or at least the fittings. A man in a black wet coat with a broad hooded head from behind, designed to cover his hat, stands on the step of the entrance of one of the the thick enforced brown leaden doors, his wife kneeling to childs height with a slipped white turbin showing a shadow of cropped scalp adjusting the yamulke of her 5 year old with 10"curls falling fom both sides of his red head. Women pass in flat heels, air hostess blue, brown knee high pleets and wearing dusty nylon 70s shop window manequin wigs under scarves. Mothers, grandmothers aunts and sisters. The only vain concession to a now. Or simply acceptable assimilation.
After his grandmothers burial her belongings were shared amongst the women. A small gold earring had been dropped and after two days of brushing the old lady's room with brooms and old cloth it was decided that it must have been lost somewhere on the terrace and fallen through some invisible crack. Or the old lady wanted it with her. But Juan had made a wedding ring on the slight long fingers of his new hand, the hand that was to become his own, the hand, his map of fates.
There lay so many skins on this hand its peeling shards of a story, revealing a blink of a line, a colour, a form. On the palm lay thirteen painted vignettes, within the lost pads of knuckles, nine, and four in the central palm. At the base of the second finger, the newspaper dotted print open mouth scream, the miniature letter "I" painted in green with a red base. There are four portraits inderscernable under the thick smudge of glazed glue, but for the cameo of a smiling sailor. At the tip of the index finger sits a ripped house, split in two by the paper's compress and wet glue spiralling down passed a stenciled diamond shine and a pair of boxing gloves emblazoned with HE WHO WINS, to a large tree on a dune, a desert painted in the circle of the thumbs palm, bulbous circles of grey forming storm clouds with bright lines of yellow rays behind, raining stick figures with wings. The flying eagle peeled wet and pasted from a Coors bottle circles the collapse of the small to middle finger. The eagle is flying with sketchy pastel green insects. A cut out miniature of a cigarette box is over painted with a white rabbit on fire. An enamelled blue circle inhabited by a rainbow and a yellow triangle lined with pencil mark bricks and porcupined lines as if arrowed and smoking, is the centres orb, and at its base, completing the palm and winding on water through stenciled yesteryears is a snake lifted by three birds, its squares of colours, drawn with the interior blocks of a ladder and a white lace bounce from the bandadged wrist stump licked by the orange blue flames of water colour fires where nests the Black Madonna with pearl tears nursing a dead deer with A. I. R 2011 stencilled in her coronet.
This hand with the density of hundreds of shedding skins. What secrets were opened and closed in this multitude of pictograms?
The last skin is sprayed with white and red acrylic specks and a pore of white mildew has formed at the base.
Not unlike like the base of Manhattan you can see from the entrance of the bodega, down Bedford Ave, has become truly the petrified forest over the East River. Calcified like a broken bone, where bygone future is very much the present and the creeping plaster of the new lays low.
In December 1999 Juan Cordosa was hit by a car on his bike leaving the deli where he had worked for twelve years on 28th+Lex.
Juan Cordosa's legacy maybe many, but here is another. His open hand is offering a history of the future.
Or a future that never was but would be.
Juan Cordosa, 1956-1999.
Adam Nankervis thanks Rose for sharing her family's story cut+paste journal NYC May/June 2007