Book Review: When I was Six

A unique tool of self-exploration, and a cathartic medium of self-expression and identification, art has long been revered for its therapeutic capacity. No one is more cognizant of this than Philip Toledano, who has used his artwork as a means of learning about himself and those around him, often forcing him to confront troubling realities of his past and future head-on.

In The Reluctant Father, an almost painfully honest mediation on fatherhood, he chronicles his journey and ultimately, struggles, as a new parent. In Days With My Father, Toledano grapples with mortality and memory as he watches his father's slow mental and physical deterioration. In an upcoming project, Toledano expounds on themes of mortality, as he explores different possibilities of his own future, enlisting the help of DNA tests and psychics, and using prosthetics and make-up to depict himself as varied versions of himself: rich, poor, fat, thin, healthy, unhealthy. His latest book, entitled When I Was Six, is yet another chapter in Toledano's ongoing endeavor of self-discovery through artistic expression.

Just as the title states, when Toledano was six years old he lost his older sister, nine-year-old Claudia Toledano, in an unfortunate accident. Deeply poignant and powerful, Toledano's narrative begins with a bold and troublesome realization: he has only two memories of his sister, running into her room and screaming "I wish you were dead" and the day she died. From that point on, Toledano's parents never spoke of their late daughter again in an effort to restore a sense of normalcy for their young son. Meanwhile, Toledano became fixated upon space and imaginary landscapes, and in retreating to these worlds he found solace in his solitude; a world in which his own isolation implicitly offered the promise that no one else would disappear.

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After his parents passed away, Toledano discovered a box his mother had kept that contained photographs and artifacts of his sister Claudia, a startling confirmation of Claudia's otherwise obscured personhood. Throughout the book, Toledano juxtaposes soft, celestial images, rendered through the use of a Cloud Box, of the imaginary landscapes that fostered his oblivion with the very real relics of the sister he hardly knew. With each image, Claudia emerges from the quiet of the darkness and haze as a comprehensive, complete individual: a lock of hair, a solitary school pencil, colorful, youthful cards to friends and family. However, the reality of her death is also painfully present, sympathy cards and a death certificate are also found in the box. And although this exploration is undoubtedly difficult, Toledano is gifted with the opportunity to finally know his sister.

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When I Was Six was published as a Limited Edition and is available through Dewi Lewis publishing.

Copies of the book can be purchased online at when-i-was-six.

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