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Dreaming In Digital Collages

Diriye Osman

Beloved reader,

Like most of you, I have found the pandemic challenging on an emotional, psychological, social and financial spectrum.

For me it's the low-level consternation, coating every aspect of daily life with a caliginous glaze, that has made me teeter repeatedly on the edge of unreason.

If grief is the thing with feathers, according to Max Porter — which is itself a riff on Emily Dickinson's refraction of hope — Leonard Cohen understood that, even though there was a crack in everything, that was simply how the light seeped through.

This is hope as organism and testament; this is hope, not as platitude, but as lived practice.

Emboldened by this theory of hope as a way of expanding my creative and cognitive intrepidity, I read graphic novels (my favourite literary medium), including one by Adrian Tomine on the terrible loneliness of being a career cartoonist, that also shows how art-making remains a faith-based endeavour, whether you're an agnostic, an apostate or an atheist.

I complimented that reading with the inventive Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli, which is about an emotionally disconnected, modestly successful middle-aged architect whose entire world goes up in flames when his apartment burns to the ground. This leads him to ditch city life for the American heartland, in a desperate attempt to not only flee his demons but also to test the solidity of his own psychical structure.

I read and I wrote and I painted and I took photos, submerging myself in the diverting dream language of art as way to survive; as a way to retain my song, as the singer-songwriter Lizz Wright would have it.

Two of the most life-enhancing experiences that have emerged from this period have been reconnecting with you, beloved reader, and revelling in the pleasures of making digital collages.

When I first embarked on this project of performative portraiture, I saw it as a way to glimpse a heightened reflection of myself; one that was infinitely more glamorous, more cyborgian in its wonderful wildness. It was self-mythologization as its own style and syntax.

The pleasure of transmuting these pretty images into strange new shapes, of intensifying each shot with oversaturated scenery and graphic leitmotifs from my own particular visual vocabulary, has been a wonderful curative for my ennui and core-to-bowel-deep blues.

Though it may seem straightforward, there are several layers of signification fighting for sovereignty in this new body of work: I am the model, stylist and art director of the photo shoots, but I'm also taking these images, which are essentially fabulist head shots of myself, and manipulating them until they have mutated into something revealing my rawest essence.

I love making this work, darling reader, and I hope it has brought you as much pleasure as it has brought me. You are the reason this art exists, and I'm grateful for your kind gaze.

With love,



Song of the moment: 'I Wanna Know' by BRIAN CULBERTSON.


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