Thursday, July 02, 2015

Reconciliation as a Fictional History

“You're always looking for ways of tricking yourself
in order to save yourself from habit."
Samira Abbassy

The life journey of the New York based artist Samira Abbassy has been one that has encompassed both geographic and cultural shifts that challenged her identity of self. Born in Iran, Abbassy grew up in the British market town of Tonbridge and from the age of 24 has made her home in Manhattan.

Being ethnic Arabs in the predominately Persian Iran predicated her family’s move to Britain. Where, as she told the Financial Times “I think we were the only other non-white family apart from the owners of the Chinese restaurant.” Her move with her then husband to create the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in New York was less traumatic. As she has said “Today, with Skype or phone or email, there isn’t that huge gulf between my family in England and me. My parent’s transition was much harder. I was instantly plugged in with a reason to be in New York, unlike, for example, my mother.”

Although the inherent cultural clashes fueled by the current political animosity that exists between the West and the Middle East in general and Iran in particular are somewhat harder to reconcile.
As she told Dowling Collage Library’s Omnibus podcast “I suppose it  goes back to a family who, you know, Muslims, who grew up in a Christian society, so called, and my early interest in what Christianity and Islam were and were and how they met, which they do. I think what started to intrigue me was the fact that Islam, the Muslim, the Koran is the third book of a trilogy, as I see it, the Old Testament, the New Testament. Because the Koran also cites Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Abraham and Moses, it’s grounded in the Old Testament.”

Abbassy attempts this reconciliation predominately through self-portraiture. As she says “That’s what I try to do. My figures are self-portraits, but they are more to do with the journey of the self, the universal self, rather than me…I see my job as addressing specifically a place where I came from. I want to make new connections to that place, I want to create a contemporary art that is specific to my own cultural heritage and experience which involves being from that place but not living there now.”

Abbassy’s current exhibition Love & Ammunition is on show at London’s Rossi & Rossi Gallery until the 23rd of July.

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