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My Own Witness: Rupture and Repair

September 17 thru January 8, 2023

Returning artist, Donna Bassin, collaborated with individuals who felt invisible and un-entitled in the American moment following the 2016 presidential election. By telling stories through pose, gesture, and props, the subject asserts their identity and invites encounters with their humanity.

Chad and James (Detail)



Donna Bassin

Donna Bassin, Ph.D., born in Brooklyn, is a lens-based artist and filmmaker. Influenced by her work as a clinical psychologist, Donna uses art to explore the creative edge of collective loss, grief, mourning, and transformation. She is known for her documentaries, Leave No Soldier and The Mourning After, and her series The Afterlife of Dolls – an exhibition that was featured on PBS' State of the Arts and received a Golden Bell and Gradiva Award. She was selected as a recipient for the 2021 New Jersey Council on the Arts Fellowship in Photography.


Her first solo show was at the Montclair Art Museum, followed by Soho Photo Gallery. Her work has been juried into national exhibitions, and has been published in periodicals such as Tricycle, Fotonostrum, Grazia, and Lens Magazine, and featured on book covers and in private collections. Her installations have appeared at the Jamestown Arts Center, Smack Mellon, Mills Reservation, Jersey City, and the Montclair Art Museum.


Donna's current projects, My Own Witness: Rupture and Repair and Precious Scars, explore the human desire for reconciliation in the wake of social fractures. My Own Witness: Rupture and Repair was recently featured in the Newark Museum for the 2021 New Jersey Arts Annual: ReVision and Respond as well as a solo exhibition at the Soho Photo Gallery in New York City. Precious Scars was recently shown at the Jamestown Arts Center in Jamestown, Rhode Island as part of an exhibition entitled RAW: Reassessment and Wonder. Environmental Melancholia, her newest series, focuses on creating visual metaphors with landscapes to bring attention to the Earth’s fragility and to engage with the public’s difficulty in comprehending the potential losses by our current ecological threats.


"During the years following the 2016 presidential election, I initiated portrait collaborations between those who – through race, sexuality, gender identity, age, ethnicity, and/or disability – felt they had been deemed invisible and unentitled to their place in this American moment. I asked my sitters to turn themselves “inside out” and to use pose, gesture, and gaze to express their emotional truths regarding the crisis of democracy: to visually assert their identity and invite a visceral face-to-face encounter with their humanity.

I had to close my portrait studio during the pandemic and prematurely interrupt the My Own Witness project. Long-ignored cracks ruptured as racial and economic injustices were brought to the forefront of collective consciousness and our democracy teetered on edge. I needed to gather myself differently and detach from the ongoing pain of others. One day, I went down to my studio; I had one of the My Own Witness photographs out; I looked at it and just ripped it out of despair. Then I looked at it again as I left the studio, and I thought, “this is the embodiment of rips and ruptures in our culture.” These are the wounds that reflect our individual and collective traumas.

Then, inspired by the Japanese practice of Kintsugi – which mends broken pottery by using gold lacquer to repair damage while highlighting the scars – I restored the torn portraits using golden rice paper and thread in a way to acknowledge the lingering scars. The sewing added a visceral quality; raw, haphazard, and almost undone. The resulting scars remind us that we must not forget the incidents that create our wounds, but instead use them as inspiration to move forward and mend our fractured relationships with ourselves and each other.

This series is an expression of both my artistic and analytic work and is informed by my personal history including the tragic death of my younger sister in childhood, my work at Ground Zero following 9/11 and my interest in social issues.

Inspired by French philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas’ observation that the portrait invites a face-to-face relationship between portrait sitter and viewer, my hope would be to utilize any potential winning of the prize to continue this work and further expose it to a wider audience. These images and the stories they express will ideally move viewers from bystander to active witnesses in what I believe must be our collective and ongoing fight for social justice."

-- Donna Bassin

This project was made possible by the partnership and support by:

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This exhibit was made possible by the partnership and support by:

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