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Nadine Faraj, “Inside The Veins Of A Petal On A Blooming Redbud Tree II” (2018) (all images copyright Nadine Faraj and courtesy Anna Zorina Gallery, New York City unless otherwise noted)

There is something about the sexual act that Nadine Faraj gets exactly right in her inexact, amorphous blending of bodies engaged in flagrant erotic intercourse. Her technique, which is to work wet-in-wet with watercolors on paper, evokes the misty arcs of pleasure and the deep, deep depths of hunger that the act itself taps — at least when it fulfills all its promises, which tend to be somewhere just north of occasionally. With her figures Faraj reveals our desire to explore the body’s penetralia, to cajole and seduce, to dominate or be submissive, to find and test the limits of another’s body, to discover our own boundaries, and to watch others do the same.

Installation view of Get Used to Us at Anna Zorina gallery (photograph by Stan Narten and courtesy Anna Zorina Gallery, New York City)

In her exhibition at Anna Zorina gallery, titled Get Used to Us, physical borders are almost always indistinct. I can make out limbs and torsos relatively easily — hair, fingernails, and eyes as well, which might be green, black, red, brown, or blonde. But then the candy apple red that represents the pinnacle of an areola seeps into the rest of a breast to make the whole into a curved confection, and the eyes wash out into the rest of the face to form an anonymizing mask. Bodies lose themselves in other bodies, melding and morphing in a representation of the act of attempting to forget the self. The sex displayed is straight and queer and undefined. And the borders of gender therefore become hazily obscured too: in “Birdsong” (2018) a person with muscular legs that transmute into stiletto heels and assertive breasts uses (her/his?) penis to enter a partner whose body is similarly shaped. The craving to lose the self may have its apotheosis in the portrait “Become River Head to Foot” (2018), where the head and shoulders of the figure have become mottled with all the ecstatic colors of the lovers who have likely touched or been touched.

Nadine Faraj, ” Become River Head To Foot” (2018)

I have often struggled with this kind of explicit sexuality in visual art — because I’ve felt that it is a well that if one falls into, it’s very difficult to climb back out to talk about formal or conceptual strategies. Faraj’s paintings want the viewer to stay in this place of wanton sensuality and make other discoveries here. After having spent time with this work and spoken with the artist about her aims and ambitions, I think it’s best to do away with my own metaphor of plunging into something indecent or smutty. To merge with another, to share our bodies, to escape one’s own gravitational pull is at heart a hopeful imagining, and an (occasionally) astonishing actuality. In these images there’s no guilt attenuating this pleasure, and there’s no fear of going too far.

Nadine Faraj, “Birdsong” (2018)

Get Used to Us continues at Anna Zorina gallery (532 West 24th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through April 6. It was curated by Anna Zorina staff.

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Seph Rodney

Seph Rodney, PhD, is a senior critic for Hyperallergic and has written for the New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, and other publications. He is featured on the podcast The...