Mohammed Sami “The Point 0” at Camden Art Centre, London

Mohammed Sami “The Point 0” at Camden Art Centre, London

Sami’s works interrupt straightforward narrative readings. Recalling moments from his own past—first as a young artist co-opted by the Ba’ath regime to create propaganda images, and later as a refugee granted asylum in Sweden—his paintings draw on the unreliability, subjectivity and peculiar precision of memories. Hallucinatory in both tone and conception, he creates a space in which feelings, moments and places emerge and resurface as highly charged but often inscrutable and unsettling images.

Sami’s poignant and evocative paintings render abandoned interiors, claustrophobic cityscapes and uncanny depictions of apparently everyday objects including chairs, tables, couches and clothing. There is a strange absence of people, yet the settings are haunted by the trace of human presence; empty chairs in a parliamentary hall become a vast graveyard, medals pinned on a military shirt evoke both bullet holes and flowers in a field, whilst the shadow of a spider plant metamorphoses into a threatening and malevolent presence. While conflict and trauma are never directly depicted, a deep sense of unease is conveyed, lingering just beneath the surface. Garments, mattresses, carpets and other objects—each shaped and formed by the pressure and proximity of bodies—act as substitutes for the human figure, a kind of prosthesis or phantom, lingering long after the subject has departed.

Sami never takes photographs or makes sketches, instead mining his own experiences from his formative years in Iraq. Negotiating the past through painting, Sami’s works probe at the root of what it means to remember, to excavate the past and return again and again to the point of origin—“The Point 0.”

Working directly onto canvas with brush, pallet, knife and spray paint, Sami gives as much attention to the textures, surfaces and details in the works, as he does to the composition as a whole. It’s a means for him to get closer to the way memory works, triggered, as it so often is, by unexpected and apparently unremarkable encounters with the minutiae of every-day life. Sami seeks to capture what the camera can’t, to paint what’s left and what returns.

at Camden Art Centre, London
until May 28, 2023

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