19 Mar 2024 - 13 Oct 2024

Mohammed Sami: Isthmus

Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo


Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo presents Isthmus, an exhibition of new paintings by Mohammed Sami (Baghdad, 1984).

Across the breadth of his work, Mohammed Sami has focused consistently and indefatigably on exploring the relationship between contemporary painting and episodic memory. The experience of what Sami calls “thereness”: the feeling of being momentarily and unwittingly thrust – often through a sensation – into a place in one’s mind that is not “here” but somewhere else, is central to his work, which draws on his own experience of migration in early life and its enduring effects on his subjectivity. Honing his use of various technical capabilities, including composition and framing, colour, texture and titling, Sami seeks to push the potential of contemporary painting to elicit specific atmospheres without making anything explicit or directive. In service of this, Sami’s paintings are always unpeopled. His compositions are often deliberately jarring – their framing obscuring natural perspectives, revealing only partial details of a scene or situation, where colour, texture, light and shadow take on central roles in his careful construction of mood. As such, it is through the convergence of these different elements of painting that questions of how sensations, moods and atmospheres translate to episodic memory emerges.

Isthmus, Sami’s exhibition at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, invokes the concept of “isthmus” (البَرزَخ); a place that separates two things. In Arabic, this idea is encapsulated in the term “Barzakh”, which denotes the separation between the living and what comes after it, a concept similar to the Christian notion of purgatory. In tracing the meaning of this word and its resonances, Sami’s title suggests the unsettling atmosphere of being in-between, left hanging, or in limbo. His new body of work carries this mood throughout each painting in a different way. Nothing is ever made explicit, but conflict seems to lie beneath the surface of every work, each of which has its own independent character and setting. In these new works, Sami’s brushwork expands to make use of everyday materials mixed into the paint, such as sand and spray paint, adding a further complexity to his painterly vocabulary. Compositionally, too, Sami’s new works evoke an unsettled and fragmentary state of mind: viewpoints seem either too close – showing only detail and no depth of field – or obscured through shadow – large sections of the canvas blacked out – leaving one with a disturbing sense of being somewhere in-between; not quite here nor there.

Press release from Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo

Image: Mohammed Sami. Under the Palm Trees. 2023. Mixed media on linen. 290 x 344.5 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo