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Nighttime painting with shadows of animals and spots of light
Nighttime painting with shadows of animals and spots of light

Mohammed Sami’s “Nocturnal Animals” (2023). © Mohammed Sami. Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York, and Modern Art, London

An Iraqi Painter’s Haunting Night Scenes

The Iraqi-born, London-based painter Mohammed Sami’s debut U.S. show, “Muzzle of Time,” at Luhring Augustine Chelsea in Manhattan, plays on the multiple meanings of “muzzle”: a metaphor for the censorship of speech and the opening of a gun’s barrel from which a bullet explodes. In Sami’s paintings, retrospection can be both muted and incendiary. The artist was born and raised in Baghdad at the height of Saddam Hussein’s totalitarian reign and emigrated to Sweden following the subsequent U.S. invasion; much of his work is dedicated to memorializing the psychic shock of war and displacement. Sami’s most affecting paintings depict haunting interiors absent of all characters, often with hints of action happening just beyond the frame, and moody nocturnes of towns or cities without particular geographic moorings, as if they are places conjured from dreams. “In my homeland, night represents a poetic element,” Sami says. “After the war, people are still waiting for the night to awaken from its coma.” While the settings are sourced from his youth, the use of vivid color palettes and depictions of night scenes and everyday objects evoke the 19th-century intimism of Les Nabis and other Post-Impressionists, proving that figurative painting can borrow from old artistic forms and still arouse intense emotions about the complexities of contemporary life.

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