Morbid Symptoms | Sarah Levy
January 10–30, 2017 | White Gallery
Reception: Friday, January 13, 2017 | 6–8 pm
Curated by Jude Boatman
“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” –Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks (1948)
This notion of “morbid symptoms” directly relates to much of the contemporary world, especially parts of the Arab world in the years since the Arab Spring and counterrevolutions in Egypt and Syria. Gramsci’s statement feels particularly apt to the United States of America in light of Donald Trump’s election. Many people today feel disoriented, grieving a past America or a past notion of what that America was, as well as rightful fear of what is to come.
Since the death of my mom in 2013, which coincided with the Egyptian counterrevolution’s brutal beginnings, I have used the act of drawing faces as a way to channel my own personal grief as it mixed with that of movements and individuals across the world. There can be pain, connection, and also relief in seeing your own intense feelings reflected back to you in the face of another. Through drawing, there is a way to emphasize these emotions that make the viewer engage differently than they might with a photorealistic image. The imprecision prohibits the viewer from filling in the image in their mind, making them question the identity of the person they’re seeing: who is this? Why are they depicted? How does their story relate to mine?
With this collection of work at this moment, I hope to reach people in a time of devastation to tell them they are not alone. I also aim to open up a larger conception of the zeitgeist, using faces in art as a jumping-off point for people to connect with, and through this better understand our world and our current political moment(s). These are the birth pangs of a world struggling to be born. These are the faces, the upsurge, and the debris of a global moment of “morbid symptoms.”
Sarah Levy is a Portland-based artist with a background in history and journalism. She has spent time working as a journalist and drawing related portraits in Palestine and Greece. Levy started drawing in 2013 as a way to cope with grief and trauma. She did not study art in school but has taken classes from Portland artists Phil Sylvester and Jesse Reno.
Whatever, a portrait Levy painted of then-candidate Donald Trump in Fall 2015 received global viral coverage: inspired by sexist menstruation-related remarks Trump made about FOX News anchor Megyn Kelly, Levy painted the portrait using her own menstrual blood.
Most of Levy’s work is charcoal portraiture, with a focus on radical history and grassroots change-makers. She is inspired by the beauty of faces and their power to express worlds, and aims to harness this power to draw in viewers and challenge their traditional engagement. She is interested in the intersection of art, politics and journalism, and how art can advance contemporary social movements.