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Pinky Promise, 2022
Pinky Promise, 2022Courtesy of the artist and Jeffrey Deitch, New York

Sasha Gordon’s self-portraits are designed to make you uncomfortable

In her sprawling, surreal paintings, the New York artist is forcing viewers to confront the discomfort of life in a marginalised body

In her latest exhibition at Hands of Others, currently showing at Jeffrey Deitch in New York, Sasha Gordon uses absurdist self-portraiture to highlight the conflicting issues in her personal life. However, instead of allowing her audience to sympathise with the stark emotions in her paintings, Gordon’s work is meant to perturb us; there is a sense of unnerving voyeurism when viewing these images as if we are seeing something we should not. 

“I’ve always felt really uncomfortable [in my body],” the Brooklyn-based artist tells Dazed. “I want the viewer to feel the same discomfort of being in this body that’s being critiqued and looked at all the time. I was always very hypervigilant about how I would appear to people... I like to make the fabric that my figures are wearing kind of itchy and you can see every fibre. They’re very sensitive to what they’re wearing and how they are taking up space. I’m turning the tables and having the viewer also feel that.”

Hands of Others is Gordon’s first collection since completely finishing art school (she studied painting at Rhode Island School Of Design). The work is being shown as part of a larger group show at Jeffrey Deitch, Wonder Woman, which aims to explore the experiences of Asian women artists – an experience that is impossible to miss in Gordon’s self-portraits.

“My work is definitely for the Asian-American audience, which is for me also. I always thought I wasn’t able to take up space and be weird. I always felt like I had to assimilate and fly under the radar to keep myself safe. So creating these really bizarre scenes where these women are people that look like me are kind of just like doing things that aren’t normally accepted by Asian people, it’s showing that we are more than just a monolith and one-dimensional.”

She continues, “For me, it’s important for them to look like me because it’s my experience, but just talking about bodies and accepting yourself, and dissociating but being so permanent at the same time, makes them relatable to anyone in a marginalised body.”

As Gordon has grown up, her art has grown alongside her. While her work previously drew on her own childhood experiences, the latest collection has a more adolescent edge. Gordon tells me that this happened naturally, with Hands of Others dealing with topics she previously shied away from – such as her OCD, her queerness and her trichotillomania. But she finds catharsis in the honesty: “It’s a way for me to cope but also share my experiences and create a dialogue,” she says.

The age-old adage that art should be uncomfortable springs to mind when first viewing Gordon’s work, but on reflection, there is reassurance to be found on the canvas, as it represents the general discomfort of existing. For all the memes questioning our dislike of being perceived, Gordon is forcing us to perceive how we look and feel when nobody is around.

Hands of Others is showing at Jeffrey Deitch until June 25, 2022