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Kitra Cahana's Still Man Artwork

The photographer and documentarian captures her father's strength through locked-in syndrome

by David Graver
on 05 November 2014
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During the most recent TEDMED conference, photographer and documentarian Kitra Cahana delivered an empowering talk on triumph in the face of adversity. Her father, Rabbi Ronnie Cahana, suffered a stroke in his brainstem three years ago. Paralysis set in everywhere below his eyes—taking away his ability to breathe, speak and move independently. However, he never lost consciousness. And with help from his family, was able to communicate by blinking as they scrolled through the alphabet, flagging letters to string together. This inspired his daughter—his strength and his continued love of life, made evident by sermons and poems he would write letter by letter. She began to document it.

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Ronnie Cahana embraced the totality, and the petrifying reality, of what is known as locked-in syndrome. Until, limb by limb, his body began to reconnect through sensations and then hints at movement. When this happened, his daughter's documentation took a turn, as she sought out new ways to capture the ephemeral. And when Ronnie Cahana began to speak, images turned to video—with Ronnie's regained voice, not broken but empowered, as the narrator. As beautiful and powerful as the story is, the inspired and engaging artworks created throughout offer a glimpse into the world of a daughter that's been changed—and there is a universality there, for those who have experienced something similar or who live in fear of the same.

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Kitra Cahana has now taken up residency at Prim Center in Montreal, where she continues to hone her voice and expand her body of work with a view in mind to host a comprehensive gallery exhibition within the next year. Until that time, the artist's work is visible on her website. Each image captures resounding emotional moments—some distorted, others of stark clarity. Altogether, Cahana is an artist to be on the look out for.

To support Ronnie Cahana, his daughter asks anyone interested to visit the Rabbi Cahana Rehabilitation Fund. Kitra Cahana is also looking for museums, institutions and individuals that would like to partner to ensure that the work is exhibited elsewhere.

Images courtesy of Kitra Cahana

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