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Le Petit Mort: Sanam Khatabi at PPOW

‘At Low Tide’ 2024
‘At Low Tide’ 2023

In case you’re wondering, “le petit mort” is French for “the little death”, referring to the moment of orgasm when the mind goes completely, utterly blank. Such blank Nirvana is the binding force in the sex/death dance on view in Sanam Khatabi’s beautifully detailed pictures at PPOW Gallery in Soho.

The paintings literally glisten with lacquer. Appropriate, since they are like jewel boxes built from the remnants of Dutch still lifes, the show overall a brilliantly fanciful expansion on a Momento Mori. A flat female figure is the dance partner of a corpsy Death, who wistfully decays, yet whose grin seems less sinister than strangely friendly & lonesome — perhaps Death has fallen in love with one of the Muses, & she takes delight in teasing him. Several deadly relationships are explored here: between Death & his Muse, of course, but also between objecthood & sentience (what is a skull but merely an object that once was alive?), as well as between viewer & object. Objects of desire, as we explore in our Luxury issue, are often connected to violence in their origin, the luxury of their texture & visceral beauty a sensual payoff for their violent origins. 

It was refreshing to see such a triumphant take on classical themes. So much of contemporary art is patent nonsense — the creation of art blatantly aligning with the creation of value (read: money) has been exposed & mocked by artists & art lovers alike. To visit a show that is painstakingly detailed, fraught with powerful ideas, depth both in the field of the picture & intellectual ambition, was rather breathtaking. The inclusion of birds & bugs, vases & landscapes, objects & creatures indicative of the cycle of decay giving way to the blossoming of new life, felt like wandering through a cabinet of curiosities carefully balanced over the edge of the River Styx, about to fall in, or about to take flight. Perhaps both.

The flavor, you ask? Deep & sweet like black licorice, offputting at first, then intoxicating. I highly recommend!

—The Art Fart

Sanam Khatibi's 'We Wait Until Dark' is on view at PPOW Gallery through May 11, 2024. Images courtesy of PPOW Gallery.

Image captions:

  1. Where our love once lay, a dark and tortured jungle grew, 2023; oil and pencil on canvas.

  2. Open Season, 2024 oil and pencil on canvas.

  3. A beautiful figure without a tongue, 2024 oil and pencil on canvas.

  4. Halcion, 2023 oil on panel

  5. Amulet (v), 2024 oil on panel

  6. Trophy, 2023 oil on panel

  7. Beneath the slanted light of a crescent moon, 2024 oil on panel

  8. Then I became so human that I grew delicate, 2023 oil on panel

  9. You Always Promise the World, 2024 oil on panel


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