Sammaneh Poursh chooses to question, dramatise, perform and play with identity and its expression in her work and life by using costume, make-up, words, painting and photography, and various junctures where these different media meet. She also likes to travel – for experience, information, stimulation, and to encounter the new and unpredictable geographic and cultural contexts that will draw out her work. It was Islington Mill that drew her specifically to Salford, where she has been for almost two years.
Earlier this year, ‘Exhibitionism’ at Islington Mill combined three collections of Sammaneh’s work into one exhibition, chronicling her time spent in various locations in Germany, Serbia and the UK. All of the work shown was self-portraits. The contexts for Sammaneh’s art necessarily shift and transform but the key subject in Poursh’s work remains herself.
‘I think Sammaneh has always been working out what it means to be an artist,’ says Bill Campbell of Islington Mill. ‘Now she’s working out where living as an artist and being an artwork might meet.’ He also adds, simply, ‘At the Mill, we’ve always encouraged her to do whatever she wants.’ The last phrase might come across as just benevolent support but what it actually translates to is the ability that Islington Mill has to offer a nurturing space where artists can work out exactly how they want to shape their practice, from the beginning if necessary.
Sammaneh agrees: ‘Islington Mill is a place that encourages exploration for people in various stages of their work. What I love is the way I can be constantly stimulated by the people around me. Someone here will always encourage me to move something to the next level. ‘This is strange, let’s make it stranger.’ Plus, I love stealing ideas! I’m a very responsive person, and there are always so many people coming and going because this is an exploratory place for exploratory people. It actively encourages me to make the work happen.’
Not just location, but the influence of friends, cultural tastes, emotional experiences and serendipitous connections are played out in Sammaneh’s pieces, be they costumes, arresting nudes, or painted responses. When ‘Exhibitionism’ showed, it formed a backdrop for new photographs of the artist, self-portraits taken at her own exhibition to form the basis of future pieces. The title ‘Exhibitionism’ and the images themselves play with the multiple meanings of exhibition/exhibiting/exhibit: the work is exhibited as art, but the self is also revealed there, hence exhibitionism. The layers of meaning are mirrored in the work too, in which Sammaneh forms both subject/object, backdrop/focus and exhibitor/exhibition, all by herself.
Sammaneh has an interest in the boundaries between art and life, where ultimately she would like there to be no distinction. ‘Art should be playful, art should address things, art should be about your own story, but it doesn’t have to just be a drawing on a piece of paper, one can manifest it oneself,’ she believes. ‘Islington Mill allows me a space where this kind of manifestation is permitted, encouraged in fact. It’s thrilling.’ Her kinship with the Islington Mill ethos is evident here. It’s an environment that facilitates the type of creative life where such distinctions can be gleefully dismantled, the pleasures of which are apparent in Sammaneh’s work.