When artist Mercedes Gertz got divorced 11 years ago, she quietly put her wedding pictures away in a drawer and slumped into a depression. Getting divorced was so painful, it was almost embarrassing to see the picture of herself at 25, a smiling, naïve young girl in a poofy white dress. But over lunch with half a dozen friends a few years later, Gertz realized she was not alone. They were all divorced and yet, they still hung on to those wedding pictures.
“None of us ever had the guts to get rid of our wedding pictures. We were raised to see our wedding day as the most important day of our lives—to fantasize that for one day we were princesses chosen by a wonderful prince, and that we would live happily ever after,” she writes on her website MercedesGertz.com.
Gertz threw out an idea: what if they turned those pictures into ornaments? Her divorced friends and relatives began sending her their discarded wedding pictures and pretty soon, Gertz had her next project. “It was like these pictures had been the survivors of a shipwreck,” said Gertz, who was born and raised in Mexico City. “I needed to create a universe where the pictures could exist on their own, separate from the groom.”
She and her friend, fellow divorced artist, Nancy Louise Jones, began scanning the pictures into a computer and cutting them out like paper dolls, laying them out in circle forms. As they played with the shapes, the pictures suddenly began to take shape. The brides, with their white dresses, lace veils and bouquets literally bloomed like flowers—from this disappointment, something new would be reborn.
Gertz and Jones saw the re-constructed images as mandalas, which in Sanskrit means a circle that represents wholeness and an individual’s relationship to the infinite. By creating a mandala for each woman’s wedding picture, they were creating a unifying experience where all of the so-called “failed brides” would exist individually and on their own terms. “By failed brides we don’t mean something negative,” said Jones. “It just means something ended and something new began.”
The completed collection, titled Nymphas Dissolutio hangs at the Frank Pictures Gallery in Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station through April 26. Gertz and Jones would like to create more mandalas from more pictures by having divorced brides around the world send them their pictures. They are contemplating creating a virtual gallery where all brides’ mandalas could be posted.
They would like to add to the collection by creating regional shows around the world, where people can see the community of divorced brides. They will join women like Gertz’s mother Martha, her aunt Cristina and her friend Sonia, who were so young when they married that they went from wearing schoolgirl uniforms straight into their wedding gown. For many women, the photos have been cathartic and powerful, bringing out unexpected reactions. “The photos were very powerful,” said Mercedes. “When we showed the women the reconstructed photograph, it was no longer possible to keep it in the drawer. It was a valid picture now.”
Growing up Catholic in Mexico, there was a great deal of sorrow Gertz felt with her marriage ending. After divorcing, she began to study Carl Jung and the concept of different components becoming part of an integrated and stable whole. Marriage, she realized, could mean different things at different stages in one’s life. More importantly, she could not sacrifice her own goals, ambitions and needs for the sake of a marriage.
Jones said her marriage ended because they were two very different people and she was always hoping to change him. But she does not look at her divorce or first marriage with regret. In fact, she remarried soon after getting divorced and has remained married for more than 17 years. “I say it is a chapter in my book,” she said. “It is not a painful part of my life.” Gertz also remarried recently. She realized that there needs to be more than love for a marriage to last. “I learned not to have expectations,” she said. “I see it as a process and you grow together. If you hold on to expectations then you are stuck and things are breakable because there is no flexibility…Besides, if you are afraid of failure then you don’t do anything in life.”
Mercedes Gertz may be contacted through her website.