Critics’ Picks

Jonah Samson, Untitled (Parakeet), 2017, diptych of ink-jet prints with parakeet feathers, 10 x 17".

Jonah Samson, Untitled (Parakeet), 2017, diptych of ink-jet prints with parakeet feathers, 10 x 17".


Jonah Samson

Clint Roenisch
190 Saint Helen's Avenue
May 6–June 10, 2017

In late 1944, the Surrealist writer André Breton arrived on the Atlantic coast of Canada. Haunted by the political and personal ravages of war, he wrote Arcanum 17, a strange, genre-bending meditation on the search for “light” along the paths of “poetry, liberty, and love.” The illumination he sought, Breton made clear, was feminine—an antidote to the toxic masculinity that had torn his world asunder.

The artist Jonah Samson recently moved east from Vancouver to Cape Breton Island, not far from the site of Breton’s Canadian sojourn. His newest exhibition of exactingly repurposed found photographs, all depicting women, serves as an allegory for a world that contains hope yet remains full of distressing portents. The subject of Untitled (Parakeet) (all works 2017), seen in two images attached by joined frames, poses with her arm held elegantly aloft. Its curve is overlaid with parakeet feathers, perhaps a symbol of transcendence and freedom. Another doubled image, Untitled (Bird Cage), is printed both positive and negative. These two components span a nearby corner and nudge the avian symbolism in another direction: A seated woman rests her chin on her hands; her face conveys annoyance at the birdcage she finds herself in.

Samson’s largest work gathers together thirty-nine black-and-white images of women crying, from a little girl with a picnic basket to an older woman wiping away tears at a protest. Lest we wonder who is implicated by these displays of emotion, departing the gallery brings one past Every Exit Is an Entrance Somewhere Else, in which an array of pointing fingers is directed at the viewer, and Untitled (Mirror), in which, Samson might hope, we truly see ourselves.