Après Coup: Transforming Trauma into Art

Samira Abbassy, Reincarnated Fears, Oil on Gesso Panel, 48” X 36”, 2016, photo courtesy of JEANETTE MAY photo studio

The group exhibition “Après Coup: Transforming Trauma into Art” was conceived in tandem with the conference, Translating Trauma into Art and Literature at the Hewitt gallery in Marymount Manhattan College. Curated by Hallie Cohen, Professor of Art, Director of the Hewitt Gallery, this thought provoking show features work by Samira AbbassySusan Erony, Joumana Jaber, Miriam Katin, jc lenochan,  Lance Letscher, Ruth Liberman, Tyson Robertson, and Stephanie Serpick who come from diverse backgrounds and refer to different adversities, but all share ongoing reflections on trauma – running the gamut from the deeply personal to the philosophical.

Après Coup: Transforming Trauma into Art, installation view, photo courtesy of Ruth Liberman

Samira Abbassy, the Iranian born and UK educated artist, makes culturally resonant paintings, which the curator describes as “reflecting on inter generational trauma through personal and mythological lens.” Abbassy’s figures take on diverse archetypal avatars, fusing cultural sources such as Greek myths, Old Testament, Hindu, and Muslim folklore. That said, her figures are far from generic – they are charged with haunting psychological urgency. Indeed, Abbassy sees her canvases as a place of self-examination from the inside out. Throughout her engaging pictorial explorations she reflects on self-identity in the wider context of how it feels to be human.

Samira Abbassy, By the Third of Her Generation, Oil on Gesso Panel, 48” X 36”, 2016, photo courtesy of JEANETTE MAY photo studio

Susan Erony, Miriam Katin, Ruth Liberman, and Joumana Jaber refer in their work to genocide. In the “Tower of Babel” series, Susan Erony responds to the Nazi racial profiling as a justification for genocide, while in her moving graphic novels, Hungarian-born artist Miriam Katin draws with energetic graphic marks upon her life experience as a Holocaust survivor whose grown son chooses to live in Germany.

Susan Erony, Tower of Babel: Useless Eaters, Inkjet print on paper, 22.7” x 22”, 2016, photo courtesy of the artist
Miriam Katin, Page from Letting It Go, photo courtesy of the artist

Ruth Liberman, who was born in Frankfurt, Germany, presents a wall of captions in which the accompanying photograph of atrocities from concentration camps are poignantly absent.  All the captions relate to the same horrific photograph which depicts American soldiers watching German civilians who are gazing at a cart loaded with corpses. This iconic photograph was widely published in different newspapers of the time and in books later on.

Her work can read as a reflection on the politicization of atrocity, the numbing effect of images, as well as the futility and inevitability in trying to document human suffering.  In her other work here,  taken from the “Nose drawings” series, the texts were transcribed from various diaries written by Jews who survived the war from all over Europe between 1939 and 1944 – each drawing contains one day in a diary.

Ruth Liberman, Released (April 16, 1945) ,Installation, 14.5” x 250” x 2”, 2000, photo courtesy of the artist
Ruth Liberman, Released (April 16, 1945) • Installation, 14.5” x 250” x 2”, 2000, detail, photo courtesy of the artist

The established professor of the arts Dr. Joumana Jaber, who has fled Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011, exhibits a series of deeply intimate and powerful  digital photographs which juxtapose the chemical weapons being used in the artist’s homeland with her own painful experience of dealing with chemotherapy treatments- individual and collective suffering coalesce into one inseparable entity.

Joumana Jaber, Chemo Therapy and Chemical Weapons 5, Digital photograph, 31” x 22”, 2018, photo courtesy of the artist

Lance Letscher, Tyson Robertson, and Stephanie Serpick draw upon their personal history. Mostly made of vintage ephemera, Lance Letscher’s intricate and densely layered collages allude to what Pavel Zoubok Gallery describes as “a world we imagined for ourselves as children and the often painful real world we experience as adults.”

Tyson Robertson’s search for the alcoholic father he never met is documented in an ironic photo album format, comprised of a series of self-portraits using paper negatives in a 4×5 camera. And in “A New Fall,” her recent intimate series of oil paintings, Stephanie Serpick depicts unmade beds and tossed sheets seen from different perspective and devoid of human presence – full of open-ended desolation and grief.

Lance Letscher. One Percent, Metal and Staples, 12” x 8”, 2017, Courtesy of the artist and Pavel Zoubok Gallery, New York
Tyson Roberson, Untitled 8 (I never knew / I always knew) , Black and white paper negative and black paper, 12” x 18”, 2017, photo courtesy of the artist
Stephanie Serpick, A New Fall #13 ,Oil on panel, 16” x 20”, 2018, photo courtesy of the artist

JC Lenochan’s hand-crafted chalk drawings and fabricated objects reveal his ongoing critique of the ways and means of confronting cultural bias and  institutional relics. Re-appropriation and misrepresentation
of images, texts, or forms that already exist, are at the core of his work –  tackling perceptions of otherness and racial fabrications.

Overall, “Après Coup” presents diverse visual vocabularies and wide range of emotional sensibilities which altogether resonate with the viewer as a shared human experience – a subtle and timely meditation on the redemptive qualities of art in the face of atrocity, as Louise Bourgeois coined: “art is a guaranty of sanity.”

JC Lenochan, Unfinished business: this civil question of slavery being dead • Chalk on Paper, 32” x 40”, 2012-present, photo courtesy of the artist
The Hewitt Gallery of Art at Marymount Manhattan College
The show runs from March 19 to May 3, 2018