Valeria's Black Square
September 10, 2012
As dictionaries say, Valéria is a female given name from the Roman Empire dating back to the Latin verb valere, which means "to be healthy" or "to be strong". My cousin, Valeria, has never been consistently healthy but has always had a strong spirit.
“B-b-brother, I miss you!” Valeria would always say with a terrible stutter when she listened to my voice on the phone.
My cousin has always treated me as if I were her younger brother because of the 14-year distance between us. In spite of our infrequent meetings—she lives 5,000 miles away from my home—she was my patron, trying to impose her own values and beliefs on me.
“You h-h-have to see it,” Valeria woke me, a 14-year old teenager, up one morning, forcing me to accompany her to an art gallery.
“B-b-black Square by Kazimir Malevich.”
An hour later, staring dumbly at a piece on the canvas, I felt myself not only confused but also irritated. I had had some experience watching paintings only because of Valeria, who dragged me to a score of art exhibitions. But, it was beyond my logic— a black square (the dimensions 3 x 3 feet) and nothing else.
“It’s not an artwork! Give me a ruler, a paper, black paint and I will do the same!” I said, resentfully.
“M-m-many people find it difficult to understand abstract art,” Valeria replied.
She added, “It costs about ten million dollars.”
Her words were like a brick that suddenly fell on my head.
Understanding my condition, she taught me, “T-t-the art stands behind logic. The art is the painter’s feelings, imagination, and dreams. You have to open your mind and senses toward new horizons.”
This painting exploded my mind. Ever since I saw Black Square, my first destination in any city has become a local art exhibition or museum. Whenever I visit Moscow, I devote myself to an art museum to enjoy the main collection of Malevich’s works.
Valeria’s long black hair, bright brown eyes, cheerful smile, soft voice and her high intelligence made men weak. She knew a lot of people, and they loved her for her bright charisma. We visited bohemian cafes, seeing the artists, musicians, and actors. Folks disputed about Arthur Rimbaud and Percy Shelley, Bodhisattva and Sufism. Sitting quietly in a corner, I absorbed new words and ideas as a wiper would water.
In 1991, the moment that cracked history happened in my country— the Soviet Union had collapsed, and capitalism had replaced a socialistic economy. An unpredictable transformation with my cousin had taken place. An idealistic and ignorant-of-making-money woman had become a millionaire. In her forties, she managed her own lucrative business, a bank, as a hard-headed business tycoon.
At that exact time, having an unemployed wife and two little kids, I had fallen with the loss of my own job. After a painful realization, I flew to her for help. When we met she treated me like a stranger from the long line of relatives and friends who wanted her money. However, I finally broke the ice, and she became old Valeria, my sister. We spent only a couple of days together before she left on business trip to Chile. Before leaving, she told me, “I could take you in my company, but it will be bad for you. You are young, smart, and educated. You have to find your own way.” Not only did she give advice, she gave me money. I came back home and used her money to start my own IT business.
The time of change is a rough and fast period. Three years later, Valeria’s bank was bankrupted, and she lost all her wealth. To recover herself, she moved to a small town where nobody knew her. Behind her own pain and discomfort she had a talent that used her energy— writing. She wrote articles, stories, poetry, and plays; some were published in local newspapers and magazines.
One day, Valeria asked me for support to print her first book. It was published for free in my print shop.
Do you know how she titled her book?
Her book, with author’s warm greetings to me, has been standing on my bookshelf for five years. I have never read it. Sometimes, I take the book, open at any page, glance at a sentence, then put Black Square back onto the shelf. An undefined power doesn’t allow me to dig into the book. Perhaps, it is just my memory which protects my youth and Valeria’s delightful image in my heart from the present me.