Interview. Redemptive Narratives and Migrating Patterns, Samira Abbassy’s second solo at XVA Gallery in Dubai, is made up of early works on paper dating from Departed Lover in 2002, to recent diptychs on gesso panel and paper.
I reached the artist in New York during a ferocious electric storm that made the phone line crackle unpredictably as though we were participants in a strange séance. “We are made up of everyone who came before us,” she told me, referring to the female ancestors who—taken from Babylonian matriarchal cultures and Hindu iconography in relation to the goddess, Mother Kali—watch over the subjects of her paintings like spiritual doulas. They appear in the form of shrunken, wizened heads affixed to belts, shining in saintly halos, or even limp and doll-like in a lap.
DL: Are these self-portraits?
SA: Yes, but they are hopefully not narcissistic. They are not about me. My work is autobiographical but by accident. Because I’m a person living in this world at this time, I inevitably come up with subjects that are universal. I am painting different states that take place inside the body. I connect with Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious, which says our brain contains a hard drive which is the same in everyone and is filled with genealogical knowledge.
DL: You’re sometimes compared to Frida Kahlo. Does that flatter or insult you?
SA: I love her, but I feel like every time a brown woman paints a self-portrait, she is slapped with the Frida Kahlo label.