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In Isthmus, Susu Attar’s current exhibition at The Mistake Room, wide, white reams of paper hang from the ceiling, lie on the floor, or careen down the walls and roll into the viewer’s space. Painted, larger-than-life bodies hover on the paper as if suspended in space—swimming, falling, or flying. Composed of loose, gestural brushstrokes, these figures do not have articulated faces—their heads turn away or are completely featureless. They are unidentifiable.
As the press release obliquely explains, Attar’s source material is media imagery “from within contexts of violence and turmoil.” Yet her faceless and placeless figures are irreducible to settings of refugee camps, police brutality, or civil war. She has pointedly abstracted the bodies of persons under duress (at times even covering figures with pools of paint) and positioned them against the placeless background of white paper. Attar’s strategy of abstraction changes the viewer’s relationship to her figures. Without circumstantial markers and predetermined signifiers, one must look to the paint of these untitled works for a means of understanding them.
Attar’s application of paint is multifarious. To describe a single limb, she applies inch long strokes of paint beside 12-inch-long wooshes; squiggles and waves next to straight sweeps; overloaded brushes leave thick strokes of paint next to underloaded thin ones. Attar builds on navy blue underpainting, layering on various hues of brown, black, and red interspersed with patches of pastel blues and pinks, dark magentas, or sunflower yellows.
Attar paints the body as protean and multitudinous, defiantly unresolved into a digestible image. In using paint to obscure identifiable figures with recognizable features or settings, she disallows them from being used as taxonomic representations of crisis or violence. In abstracting her figures, she removes them from confining circumscriptions of subjecthood. Attar stakes a claim that mimesis is not simply an illustration of a visible truth. In her abstraction, she frees specific individuals from the restrictive pitfalls of un-nuanced representation.
Isthmus runs from October 20–December 8, 2018 at The Mistake Room (1811 E. 20th St., Los Angeles, CA 90058).