Sami Al Karim : Dream (Waterfall)
Nov 19, 2015 – Jan 23, 2016
In his third Robischon Gallery showing Iraqi born, Denver artist Sami Al Karim explores a transcendent view of Nature and the nature of self in his on-going photographic “Dream” series. As a political exile from his Iraqi homeland along with his brother and fellow Robischon Gallery artist Halim Al Karim, Sami Al Karim’s artistic mark is passionate, meaningful and hard won. Al Karim directly experienced what it is to be disconnected from family, friends and country over many years of his life, as well as being profoundly challenged by the question of what defines a personal identity. This soul-searching quest was put to the test many times, but no more dramatically than as a citizen under the military rule of Iraq’s brutal Saddam Hussein regime. Those in authority attempted to strip away all dignity from the artist, just as ruthlessly as they did many of their countrymen and women. Mindfully acknowledged by the artist, the statement that Sami Al Karim endured extreme incarceration under a death sentence as a political prisoner at the notorious Baghdad Abu Ghraib prison is one of the many pivotal points in the artist’s life. Remarkably, Al Karim not only survived, but his spirit did not succumb to the prison’s incomprehensible confines.
Equally inconceivable, is the fact that Al Karim had been imprisoned for the so-called crime of displaying a heartfelt “Peace for All” sign outside his window, which by some twisted view, was offensive to the authorities. Despite all, the indomitable impulse of Al Karim’s soul to create was kept kindled by sheer will and imagination and his stunning mark-making became a life line for him. The idea for the artist’s “Dream” series was first born in prison, when Al Karim came to feel that if he could somehow envision all of the vast skies, bodies of water and varying terrains of the world that he would be able to access something far more powerful than the oppression he was forced to endure. His sincerest belief held that since each individual was part of Nature, each human being was then Nature itself; with all of its tumult and breathtaking beauty. Nature could endure all and renew itself - so therefore it was possible that each individual could do the same.
From Al Karim’s imagination to its first mark made, the artist’s “Dream” series was manifested through impossible means and humble mark-making within the walls of the prison. Al Karim states, "There was a small layer of salt on the cement walls and each night, surrounded by many sleeping cell mates, I used a piece of wood to make the outline of my “Dream” paintings. I had to erase the whole drawing before each morning came when the guards visited the cells." The artist conveyed that for anyone to even see Al Karim’s mark on the walls was potentially a very dangerous situation in and of itself. Having survived his unspeakable incarceration and over the many years later, these clandestine drawings coalesced with Al Karim’s memories of what it was like to be outdoors in nature prior to his imprisonment and then finally free. This full breath expression now resides at the heart of the artist’s “Dream” photographs. Comprised of multiple images from select locations from Europe, the Middle East and the US, Al Karim imbues the layered imagery with a passionate intensity informed by his past perilous experiences; ineffable in their origin and palpably felt.
While his works may reflect personal losses, they reflect humanity’s resilience even more. What is truest for Sami Al Karim, now as a proud American citizen living in Denver, is that each work speaks to a profound understanding that Nature, for the artist, stands for the highest in humanity, a potency and a transcendent force, the singular constant in the world. The artist states, "Art can present an alternative to what people think they realize or to what they expect to know which might otherwise be too painful or too extreme to experience. I try to capture a single moment when home and exile do not seem opposed to each other, but are parts of the single process of our existence. Through my work, I recognize the possibility that there are no true boundaries in our lives.”
Sami Al Karim attended the Baghdad Academy of Fine Art in Baghdad, Iraq, Metropolitan State College and has a BFA with honors from the University of Colorado. Al Karim’s photography is in the permanent collection of the Denver Art Museum and the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. He has exhibited across the world in solo exhibitions in New York, USA, Dubai, UAE, Casablanca, Morocco, Istanbul, Turkey and Bologna, Italy, Sharjah, UAE among others, and was invited to participate in the Florence Biennale, Italy, and the Lampemusa, Museo Archeologico Lampedusa, Italy. Al Karim was recognized with an award at the Rocky Mountain Biennial at the Fort Collins Museum of Contemporary Art and his work is currently on view at the Yinchuan MOCA near Beijing, China through December 6, 2015.