Marcela Trujillo’s “FamilienKern” is the cover art for the April 2019 issue: Behind Closed Doors: Chilean Stories of Domestic Life.
I painted “FamilienKern” in 2008 when I returned to Santiago from Hamburg with my husband and my one-year-old daughter, Lulu. I had unexpectedly ended up living in Hamburg two years earlier. After seven years in New York City, I had decided to make my first trip to Europe to reconnect with old friends before returning to Chile. In Hamburg, I stayed with one of my friends. We liked each other, we had sex, and I got pregnant. Six months later I returned to Germany in love and with a big belly.
In Hamburg I faced motherhood without having much idea of what it meant. I went from being a single New York Latina nanny who painted and drew comics to being a full-time housewife and first-time mother with postpartum depression. Second-hand stores, bakeries, and painting saved my life.
When I returned to Chile with my husband and daughter, I did a show of paintings called “FamilienKern” (Nuclear Family) at the StuArt Gallery in Santiago. I recreated the idea of family, using as references illustrated books, board games, and toys that I collected in Hamburg. The numbers belong to a German board game, the characters to a catalog of Erzgebirge wooden toys, and the city in the background to an aerial photo of Santiago in the ’80s.
The painting sums up the idea of the family as a perfect atom where, for the first time, I belonged to the nucleus. I had always felt like a woman out of place—impertinent, ironic, clumsy, fat, ambitious, competitive. I longed to have a career and be financially independent rather than being someone’s wife or mother, so I needed to reconcile myself with my fears, playing the game that everyone wants to win: Family.
My marriage lasted three years. The division of the atom occurred when Lulu was almost three years old and my second daughter, Lupita, was nine months old. Now they are fifteen and thirteen. I still feel out of place in terms of society’s expectations but also as though I’ve found my own place.