Empathetic Magic

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body positivity

Gwenn Seemel
Fat shaming on the grass (Rachele fitting in) and Superfat Crop Top Girl Gang (Rachele standing out)

Party: June 10th and 11th, 10 AM to 9 PM
Open: June 10th through July 9th
Hours: 10 AM to 5 PM every day

MT Burton Gallery
1819 Long Beach Boulevard
Surf City, NJ 08008

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 way you want your life to look. 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 anytime 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 individuals or couples 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 in the studio

I am blogging and making videos about this series as I create it. Go here to see the works in progress and hear more about where this series comes from!