21.01.–26.03.2022 Iman Issa. Proxies, With a Life of Their Own, Galerie Elisabeth & Klaus Thoman, Vienna

Proxies, with a Life of Their Own is an ongoing series composed of a collection of self- portraits, which are simultaneously portraits of other figures. The shape of each portrait / self-portrait is always qualified by a statement attributed to the chosen figure. All of the self-portraits start from a single generic form on which they are based and from which they might diverge to achieve singularity.

Ananda Kentish Muthu Coomaraswamy (1877−1947) was a Sri Lankan Tamil metaphysician, pioneering historian and philosopher of Indian art who was an early interpreter of Indian culture to the West. In particular, he is described as “the groundbreaking theorist who was largely responsible for introducing ancient Indian art to the West.”

Shown in its entirety for the first time in London, Iman Issa began her series “Proxies, with a Life of their Own,” in 2019, with the shape of a head. Every iteration of the work since then has involved the same head, only stretched out, broken open, or cut in half. Issa wanted the original shape to be exactly the same every time, so she drew it first and had it 3-D printed. Then, she would take the heads to a paint studio, where they were covered with acrylic in white or black but never a color.

The resulting works exist in the world as sculptures composed of pieces: two halves of a white oval, with the left half mounted on a wall slightly higher than the left; or the same oval in black with the lower right quadrant cut out and tilted over on a right angle to the chin; or the oval elongated to the shape of an absurdly exaggerated egg; or the oval creatively divided, as if someone had split a face down the middle of the nose and across to one ear, taking half the forehead, the eyebrow, the eye, and the cheekbone, and flipping this part upside down and turned around and nestled back into the other three-quarters of the head. Puzzle it out, the sculptures seem to say, as so many of Issa’s works do.

Next to these sculptures are small text panels behind glass, identifying the works as self-portraits, and also, at the same time, as portraits of other people, usually literary figures. Each text panel includes what Issa refers to as a qualifying statement, sometimes a quotation, other times a paraphrase of something the writer or thinker once wrote or said.

The statements, attributed to people ranging from the philosopher Hannah Arendt, the poet Georges Henein, and the prominent feminist Doria Shafik to the writers William S. Burroughs, Taha Hussein, and Christa Wolf, are lines and references that Issa has come across in her reading and thought to herself, “I relate exactly but at the same time I don’t fully understand.”

That capacity for paradox, for two opposing things being simultaneously true, and for holding opposites in the tension of a single object, defines much of the work that Issa has been making for twenty years. (RODEO Gallery, 2022)