First published: Spring 2024

New York-based artist Susan Spangenberg talks to Raw Vision about how her series of handsewn dolls has allowed her to embrace her roots


“I was born in Hell's Kitchen and raised in Jackson Heights, Queens, NY. I am a fraternal twin and the eldest daughter of a dark-skinned, superstitious, Trinidadian-Indian mother and a hustling, homeless, alcoholic, German-American father. I learned curse words before my alphabet. Though there were hints of Hindi that might have been passed onto me, instead I learned to shoplift, pick up cans for nickels, and lie to the police.



I was the caretaker of my five younger siblings but the black sheep as well – quiet and obedient, yet brooding in the corner, ripping out my hair while absorbing all the dysfunction around me. My mother was so abusive I naturally gravitated to my father for guidance and protection which he could not provide. He was neglectful, sometimes abusive, but my mother was far worse. This put me in a state of silence. I did not talk or communicate until my twenties. When she wasn’t trying to kill me, I was trying to kill myself.





“I started creating at the age of three, but it was not encouraged. My mother forbade me to paint, ripping up any artwork I did, even for her, right in front of my young eyes. When my grandmother would come over and try to teach me to crochet, my mother would protest. I was only allowed to mend holes, and patch up the hand-me-downs the church donated to us.





“At age 13, my twin brother moved away from me emotionally, and became engulfed in addiction. I lost him tragically at the age of 18 to an overdose. I spent time with my father watching old movies, falling in love with acting, and dreaming of becoming an actor myself someday, if only to express the deep emotions I felt."


This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #118.

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