One of Syria’s most celebrated contemporary female artists, Sara Shamma produces works that are visceral explorations into subjects of death and humanity, reflected through life-like depictions of children and chilling self-portraits. Her works are divided into series that reflect prolonged periods of research, her hyper-realistic figures and the grief and deep impact felt by them are materialized by the impact of the Syrian conflict. This past April 2019, King’s College London announced the artist as a King’s Artist in residence for the year. Working with the university’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IOPPN) and the Helen Bamber Foundation, Shamma is developing a new visual vocabulary of modern slavery, exploring the artist’s first-hand experience of hearing the stories of women and girls who have been kidnapped by ISIS in Syria and Iraq. This culminates in an exhibition curated by Kathleen Soriano which opens during Frieze London this year that Christie's will be highlighting this sale season.
The present self-portrait work is one of the most surrealist, emotionally tense and abstract depictions of the artist to be offered at auction, representative of her distinct, unique painterly style. Both moving and beautiful for its choice of colour, form and blend between figurative and abstract, the work is emotionally wrenching and psychologically tense, opening the debate into larger questions of portraiture, absence, loss and isolation.
Shamma is interested in working with deeper subjects found taboo in contemporary culture, such as exploring the cycles of death and life and exploring this within her subjects and techniques. Transparent lines and the mix between blurred and hyper realistic subjects are portrayed as if one remembers a faint memory, suspended in space and time. In the present work, two women face each other, their faces collide as if they are in alternate dimensions and as if the glass were between them. One is painted in thick gestural strokes, and the other is a powdery white, pale, blurrier version of the other. In essence, these are both the same women, reflecting each other. We are unable to detect the real from the imaginary, one appears more life-like, her teary eye stares away towards the viewer’s direction, with colorful flesh and visible brush strokes, the other whose presence we feel is barely discernable. Their connection between the two selves is penetrable, their existence so different from the other, while thick colorful abstract lines seem to bridge the two dimensions together, one of the present world and another of otherworldliness.
Shamma moved to London in 2016 by way of the Exceptional Talent Visa where she currently lives and works. She has been the recipient of numerous awards including first prize in Latakia Biennial, Syria (2001), 4th BP Portrait Award, National Portrait Gallery, London (2004) and a painting prize at the Florence Biennial (2013).