Empathetic Magic

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mother and child woman woman black cowboy women woman in a wheelchair body positivity Japanese-American man Mistress and submissive

June and July 2017 at the MT Burton Gallery, Surf City, New Jersey.


You almost certainly use sympathetic magic in your day-to-day. It’s in the carefully posed photo on your social media profile. It’s in the pictures of fit people you post on the fridge to encourage healthy eating, or in the vision boards you make to help you focus on the life you want. For some, it’s even in the image of the Pope or the Dalai Lama that they hang in their homes, hoping that the holiness of these leaders will suffuse them via the photo.

Sympathetic magic is at work any time you use a representation of something in order to bring that thing into your life. Empathetic Magic, then, is made up of images that are meant to inspire a desire to dig deeper into why different people do different things. It’s a recognition that true empathy is not pretending that you know what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes, but admitting that you have no idea and then listening to them.

The series is a collection of portraits of people or pairs who each have an aspect of their appearance or their selves that tends to be perceived as a disadvantage. The subjects are each painted twice: once how they feel they hide their differences or how they feel they should; and once how they flaunt them or how they wish they could. Participants include 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 these identities often exist within the same individual, since humans are complex creatures.

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.

Gwenn Seemel, Bust

screenshot of Bust

Seemel is working to make a more empathetic world through art.

     — - Staff, Bust, June 2017 -- - full story

Gwenn Seemel, Asbury Park Press

screenshot of Asbury Park Press

[Seemel’s] circular paintings are heartfelt tributes to the idiosyncracies of the people she admires.

     — - Billy Anania, Asbury Park Press, June 2017 -- - full story

Gwenn Seemel, New Jersey Monthly

screenshot of New Jersey Monthly

Seemel’s paintings are as complex as her subjects.

     — - Jacqueline Klecak, New Jersey Monthly, June 2017 -- - full story

Gwenn Seemel in the studio

Go to this section of my blog to see the development of the works and hear more about where this series comes from!