Covid Projects: Safi Alia Shabaik: PIECES: a pandemic story of self
During the pandemic, artist Safi Alia Shabaik created what, in some ways, is the perfect telling of our disconnection to ordinary life, our need to piece together a new persona and recreate routines that align with our new realities. Using stop-motion digitally-animated collage vignettes, Shabaik has produced a whimsical series of moving collages about feelings of isolation and detachment, where body parts, both internal and external move from jumble to poetic – powerful animations of self.
Safi Alia Shabaik is a Los Angeles based interdisciplinary artist working in photography, collage, sculpture, and experimental video. She earned her B.A. in Fine Art with honors at UCLA. Catherine Opie became her mentor and taught her the art of large-scale color printing in Opie’s custom-built darkrooms. After a move to New York, she became fashion stylist, photographic documentarian, personal assistant, travel companion, and confidante to the legendary Ms. Grace Jones, who gave Safi free rein to photograph her anytime they were together.
Safi’s work explores daily life, identity, persona, transformation, subculture, and the humanity of all people. Her subject matter moved from the public realm to the private when she became a caregiver for her father who was beginning to exhibit symptoms of disease. Personality Crash: Portraits of My Father Who Suffered from Advanced Stages of Parkinson’s Disease, Dementia and Sundowner’s Syndrome focuses on her father’s journey up through his death. These intense black and white images comprise the artist’s highly personal story but also serve as a universal reminder of what it means to be human, and earned her recognition in Photolucida’s Critical Mass Top 50 for 2020.
Safi exhibits her work nationally and has been featured in publications such as The New York Times, Alta Journal, CameraCraft, Catalyst: Interviews, VoyageLA, Upworthy.com, Edge of Humanity Magazine, Shoutout LA, Artillery Magazine, and in Grace Jones’ book I’ll Never Write My Memoirs. She is guest artist interview #465 on The Candid Frame podcast. Safi is the first (ever) recipient of the Las Fotos Project Foto Award for Self-Expression, presented by the Photographic Arts Council Los Angeles. She is a founding member of the Los Angeles Street Collective and a teaching assistant at the Los Angeles Center of Photography. A lover of the human form, the artist is also an award-winning mortician.
PIECES: a pandemic story of self is a metaphoric self-portrait that unfolds in a series of crude stop-motion digitally-animated collage vignettes. This work was conceived and created in July 2020 after wading through the first several months of Coronavirus lockdown and struggling with extreme feelings of confinement, isolation, stagnation, and detachment from my own life.
This piece is a union of two of my practices: collage and experimental video. In 2015, I began playing with movement in my analog collages. This experiment resulted in super crude animation made in the traditional stop-motion style of linking multiple still images together, and bringing them to life as in a film strip or flip book. This is my first piece created almost entirely in the digital sphere. Initially hand-cutting desired collage parts from various publications with scissors, I created each collage vignette in analog form by moving the parts around on a surface to determine their placement. I then scanned the individual parts, and digitally recreated these placements, adding movement between them that culminated in choppy stop-motion animation. The story is my own, as is the text font, which I created by sorting alphabet pasta, hand painting and scanning 473 letters and numbers, then digitally animating them to flesh out the full tale without letter repetition.
The pandemic forced me out of my creative patterns and pushed me to return to a tactile method of creating again. Anatomical deconstruction, reconstruction, identity and transformation are continuous themes in my work. My collages often only exist at the moment in time when all of the loose-leaf parts come together. Once the images are memorialized in-camera, the loose-leaf parts are then disassembled and can now be reused for future collages. I call these “Transient Collages.” There is metaphor in my process: the loose-leaf parts of the collage themselves mimic the search for identity that I play with in the actual imagery, but these severed parts might never truly find their meaning since only a select few constructions are ever made permanent with adhesive. Instead, these severed loose-leaf parts reinvent themselves through continued metamorphosis of assembly / disassembly / reassembly, much like one’s journey of shifting roles and self-definition over the course of a lifetime.
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