You almost certainly use sympathetic magic in your day-to-day. It’s in the carefully posed photo on your social media profile or in the pictures of fit people you post on the fridge to encourage healthy eating. Sympathetic magic is in effect anytime you use a representation of something in order to bring that thing into your life.
New Jersey artist Gwenn Seemel is working a similar spell with her new series of portraits, Empathetic Magic. The paintings are based on the idea that true empathy is not pretending that you know what it’s like to be in another person’s shoes, but admitting that you have no idea and then listening to them.
Each subject in the series has something about them that makes them different from the mainstream. They’re disabled people, old people, fat people, hairy people, people who struggle with mental illness, people of color, asexual people, queer people, and single mothers. And all are painted twice: once how they feel they must hide what makes them different; and once how they emphasize it or how they wish they could.
Empathetic Magic is intended for those of us who believe we are accepting of others, while at the same time insisting that fat means a person is unhealthy, that a hairy back is gross, and that mental illness is just people overreacting. This work is for the judger and the judged in each of us.
WHAT: Empathetic Magic, paintings that prove we can love each other
WHERE: Lyceum Hall, 432 High Street, Burlington, NJ 08016
WHEN: April 1 through 29 by appointment (telephone: 609-239-0029)