Suleika Jaouad and Anne Francey: The Alchemy of Blood

Jun 22—Sep 22, 2024

The Alchemy of Blood is borne of bodily transitions and transformations, limitations and liminalities. Featuring works by Suleika Jaouad and her mother Anne Francey, the show pulls from periods of pregnancy, illness, and recovery — meditating on bodily agency, protective talismans, and emblems of the otherworldly that guided Jaouad and Francey through states of intense anticipation and corporeal metamorphosis.

At age 22, Jaouad was diagnosed with leukemia and began chronicling her experience in a weekly column for The New York Times and later her memoir Between Two Kingdoms. After a relapse in 2022, treatment temporarily compromised her vision, hindering her ability to write. In the throes of literal fever dreams and hallucinations, Jaouad turned to watercolors —producing a vibrant, visceral record and visual rhetoric of grief and desire while confined to her hospital bed.

Jaouad’s scenes and symbolisms share a foundational logic with the paintings Francey made three decades earlier while pregnant with Jaouad. Human-sized flowers seem to dance in vibrant washes of color — conjuring the womb and its growing life, on the brink between elsewhere and aliveness. Francey’s practice also shifted in response to her daughter’s diagnosis: she began making “shields” to protect Jaouad through illness. These manifestations made concrete through clay and woven hospital ephemera echo a medieval alchemist’s attempt to twist precious metals into a universal elixir for healing.

While pregnancy and a dire prognosis invoke opposing outcomes, Francey and Jaouad’s work both conjure bodies in wait and biologies in action. Together, they consider the blurry line between corporeal reality and the power of magical thinking. “The Alchemy of Blood” offers a collaborative ode to the hallucinatory nature of confronting one’s finitude and the limitations of the body, the fantastical forays of the mind, and how the creative impulse transforms us.