Samira Abassy calls herself an “ambassador to Never-Never Land.” If she is an ambassador, charcoal drawings seem to be her medium of negotiation.
Abassy, a sculptor, painter, and sketch artist with work featured on three continents, moved to Britain as a child. As an Arab(a)-Iranian(b) immigrant(c) Muslim(d) woman(e) in Britain(f), her physical position demands that she constantly interrogate and produce succinct labels for her identity. Her “identity” must always be defined in direct relation to the (predominantly white) British citizens around her. As an immigrant, the expectation placed on her is to neatly summarize her origins in a way that places her firmly in the category “outsider,” without being so foreign as to be threatening.
While negotiating her place in British life, Abassy, like many immigrants who leave their homelands during childhood, was burdened with the responsibility “to interpret the culture of [her] parents without wholly understanding it.” She explains that her struggle was “typical” of diaspora communities, who face the dual-battle of integration into a new country and renegotiating ties with their culture of origin. She writes:
In attempting to explain my relationship to ‘my’ culture (not just Iranian, but Arab-Iranian), I found I knew little of what this culture really was. … I became a ‘fictional historian’ as I reinterpreted stories about a homeland that I only saw as child. To paraphrase Salmon Rushdie, ‘We are creating imaginary homelands and the cultural ground beneath our feet.’ It is as though I had become the ambassador of my own ‘never- never land’ from which I was exiled.
It was here, looking for a “mirror” in which to see her complex identity reflected, that she turned to art.
Abassy explains that she created her own mirror, drawing from both pre-Rennassaince art and the visual culture of many religious traditions. In a statement accompanying her paintings, recently featured in Muslima: Muslim Women’s Art & Voices, she writes that, “by its nature, the language of the sacred seemed to be more successful at conveying the metaphorical.”