Semantha Norris

Visual art



Semantha Raquel Norris is a Los Angeles based editor and photographer. She is a native Angeleno, and received her BA from New York University with a concentration in International Development and Photography. Her work typically focuses on the surreal nature of every day life. She is the managing editor and photo editor at Dish Rag Magazine.



lo que hubiera sido

My mother always spoke about El Salvadorabout both the beauty and suffering of her home. When I was 15 years old my mom took her life. Over ten years after her passing my cousin gave me a photo album she uncovered at my abuela’s house. It was filled with love letters written by my mother’s boyfriend from El Salvador—Sigfrido

My mother left El Salvador in 1980 at the onslaught of civil war. She was 18, and made the journey alone to Los Angeles. In the midst of the Cold War, the United States backed a military dictatorship that battled against leftist guerilla fighters. My mom used to tell me that it was a matter of taking up arms, leaving her home, or dying as a casualty of war. Sigfrido left El Salvador to study in the USSR. He was a leftist, that later became a leader of the The Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional, FMLN). Sigfrido wrote these letters while he was in the USSR, spanning from 1979 through the end of 1980. They start when my mother was in El Salvador, and continue after she moved to the USA. They document a love, a loss of home, a distance, a separation, a hope, and a yearning for a brighter future. I imagine a different future when reading the letters, one where they both return to El Salvador, are reunited, and create a family together. I imagine a world in which the left is victorious in creating a revolution for the people. 

In this project I examine how displacement plays out within a narrative, and how displaced peoples’ narratives become deconstructed and reconstructed. As a product of displacement I have to work to reconstruct a narrative and a history of my family’s past. Much like a palimpsest, my mother’s history feels written on top of, and I can only attempt to reconstruct her narrative through other’s accounts and my own memories. Displacement not only moves people from their homes, forcing them to adapt and change within a new setting, but also tears apart narratives, histories, and stories of the past. It produces a loss of place, land, space, people, love, history, narrative, story, and culture. We are left with fragments that we attempt to reconstruct, so that we may feel some semblance of being whole. But within that reconstruction is an altering of the narrative, the creation of a new that may not have even existed.