Samira Abbassy: Out of Body

March 16 - June 16, 2024 

Throughout much of her work, Samira Abbassy has sought to reveal how the human form embodies internal or psychological states. The figures in her work serve as archetypes rather than portraits as she examines the overlap between interior and exterior worlds.

In Out of Body, Abbassy searches for the connection between the physical and intangible. She literally opens the body to let us inside, inspired by medical and anatomical illustrations as well as her own medical history. Ghostly hands rendered in ink and watercolor pull aside skin to reveal dark cavities and tangled organs, hinting at internal struggle or conflict. Her richly hued oil paintings expand further on the physical self as a vessel for emotion, with multiple bodies and heads illustrating the multitudes contained within each of us. A shelf filled with small sculptures, made from found materials and containing Abbassy’s own blood, serves as an altar of sorts. Abbassy references medieval Christian reliquaries, which traditionally contain the body fragments and blood of martyred saints as well as contemporary medical specimens and samples. The result is a collection of objects that feels precious and mysterious, yet also domestic and very human. 

— Sarah Freeman, curator

The image of death is the beginning of mythology.” Joseph Campbell

The drawings, paintings, and sculpture in Out of Body examine the human body as a psychological, biological, and spiritual vehicle. These works are inspired by the phenomena of faith healing, or remote psychic healing. 

The language used for the titles of individual works—“Transfiguration,” “Shadow,” and “Intervention,” for example—suggests different periods of history and philosophies of mind. “Transfiguration” is a religious term. “Shadow” refers to Jungian psychology. “Intervention” is a contemporary psychiatric term. 

The reference images I mined include Islamic medical and anatomical manuscripts from the 11th–17th centuries, as well as 15th-century European alchemical iconography that projected psychic phenomena into the physical realm. I consider these primary sources to be objects of art rather than mere biological diagrams. They transcend the corporeal and hint at attempts to locate the soul. The body becomes a vehicle of psychological metaphors, portraying embodied conflicts and dilemmas. One of the images that reoccurs in Out of Body is a disembodied hand reaching into a wound. This is adapted from the Gospel of Thomas, in which the hand of the doubting disciple probes Christ’s wound in order to find proof of the incorporeal spirit of divinity.

Reliquaries have long inspired my sculpture and its presentation. The bottled blood in “Medical Reliquaries” is my own, extracted following a surgical procedure. Associated with the medieval Christian church, reliquaries are peculiar artifacts that present the presumed body fragments of holy saints and are intended to inspire faith. These human remains are displayed as a form of proof of life, or proof of divinity. Similar mortal specimens—hair, bones, teeth, and body fluids—have long been presented as ritual objects in sacred traditions such as Santeria, Voodoo, and Animism.

The process of art making is also the subject of much of my work, echoing in titles such as “Transmutation,” which is exactly what happens during the making of a piece of art. The act of creation requires a suspension of participation in the physical plane in order to receive suggestions from the unconscious. This can also be understood as participation in the realm of the Divine. Holy icons, for example: the making of an icon is an act of reverence meant to inspire faith in the viewer. I make my work in full participation with the mysterium tremendum—also  known as the “numinous”—where I can safely confront my demons, my gods, and the liminal between. My work acts as a heart opener for me and, I hope, the viewer, too. 

Samira Abbassy


March 16, Saturday, 5 p.m. — Opening of New Exhibits
April 3, Wednesday, 7 p.m. — Art Talk: Samira Abbassy and Sarah Freeman


Installation views
Video – Art Talk: Samira Abbassy and Sarah Freeman
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