English version of the text 'Ody Saban utopiste' by Roger Cardinal                                

Ody Saban was born in 1953 in Istanbul, that crossing-point of so many religious and linguistic pathways, the very spot where the bared skin of the East brushes against that of the West. She grew up in a world of confusion and disquiet. Her parents were Sephardic Jews. They quarrelled constantly and noisily; the police called repeatedly at the house; Ody’s brother tormented her. The child was obliged to seek refuge in her mother's bedroom, where she remembers asserting the rights of fantasy and transforming a row of chairs into a bus. She was aged five when her parents were divorced. She stayed with her mother, who married again, this time to a Muslim. Ody soon came to revere and adore this stepfather, a taciturn man who earned his living as a restorer of porcelain and painted glass. In his spare time, he was also active as a sculptor and a musician. Henceforth, her mother’s life was a happy one. As a dressmaker, she would gather remnants of ancient Anatolian embroidery and sew them into larger compilations. Ody grew to appreciate peace and beauty and to realize there is a link between artmaking and tenderness. In a letter, she writes: "I saw some pretty things in my childhood. A whole world of living images brought face to face in an emotional way. This was not something you could find in a book or a museum, or at school." On Sundays, her stepfather would take her on long walks through the maze of the city. She remembers they sometimes crept inside houses still under construction, where she became responsive to the poetry of buildings without walls and of empty, forbidden sites.

 Despite her friendships with other girls and her adventures in the streets, hers was a childhood largely marked by introspection and daydreaming. Ody invented a thousand secret games with everyday objects, investing them with mystery. At the age of twelve, she composed a series of clandestine love poems: their addressee was an unknown man whom she would watch from her window at the far end of the street - "without knowing him at all, and even without seeing him properly, apart from his silhouette, which gazed back at me, by night, while my parents were sleeping". She attended a school run by Italian nuns, but soon recoiled from the Catholic religion, feeling violated by the strictures it imposed upon her. She discovered the pleasures of illicit reading, hiding beneath the bed-clothes to consume dozens of short novels full of erotic tales of the harem. She remembers that for a long time she felt that her life was taking place at a great distance from that of other people and especially of men. In her own mind, she elaborated an elective former life, transporting herself to Çatal Hüyük, the capital of the matriarchal civilization of prehistoric Anatolia.

 The equilibrium of her adolescence was upset by the death of her natural father and that of her stepfather soon thereafter. At the age of sixteen, she went off on a trip to Palestine and Israel in the company of a lover who promptly abandoned her. For a while she worked in a kibbutz. She began to cultivate her solitude and her ascetic leanings, devoting herself to poetry and to drawing. She was attracted to the writings of Arno Stern, from whom she picked up the notion that artmaking springs from within the self, and can never be the product of a systematic apprenticeship. This was enough to turn her away from a teaching career, despite the period she spent in Haifa studying to be a drawing-teacher.
 In 1977, now aged 24, she gambled her destiny on an elective place and took up residence in desxlkkoParis, taking a garret room in Belleville and earning her living as a cleaner. Soon after this, however, while on a short summer trip to Turkey, she was the victim of a serious traffic accident. Her body riddled with fragments of broken glass, she underwent an operation conducted by a surgeon who refused to use any anaesthetic. "I shall never forget the pain of that operation, it was like a trip to hell", she comments. "I don't know if there is any trace of all that in my work, today." Crushed, disoriented and desperate, she spent months stumbling along the hard and painful road back to health and a new zest for life. Making drawings and watercolours became a therapy and a route toward self-expression, helping her renew her links with existence. Yet to choose art is scarcely the softest option. It was brought home to her that "one must be utterly self-reliant and as hard as nails if one is to pursue the true path of creativity".

 The story of her life continues as a sequence of abrupt episodes. In 1980, she lived for several months in New York with a French poet; the couple married after returning to Paris a year later. The husband was to die in 1990, following their divorce. Their daughter, to whom Ody gave the name Eden, became the object of a great maternal passion. Proud of her independence, Ody now began to organize protest movements on behalf of female self-taught artists. In a disused munitions factory which had become a refuge for artists and down-and-outs, she constructed a room out of improvized materials and continued her drawing. Later on, in another squat, she discovered her shamanic powers, entering into an hallucinatory trance and conversing with the dead. She began to read the Tarot cards, a practice which she still keeps up today. She is a woman delighted by coincidence who puts her faith in signs and intuitive knowledge.

 Although nowadays Ody Saban lives a regular life in a perfectly normal apartment on an unexceptional Paris street, it hardly needs to be said that her creative world diverges wildly from the norm. As in her childhood, she inhabits a visionary domain entirely foreign to daily life. Gérard Sendrey has observed that "Ody Saban's painting is an act of war", as if her art were a way of wreaking vengeance upon an unhealthy and painful existence. And yet, while incorporating the scars of past experiences, her images tend to disclose and to reinforce a fresh perspective upon life, something positive and in a way transcendent. Thus the sense of an explosion of libidinal energy, so striking in her work, is the result of a process of fundamental conversion which transmutes and revalorizes real phenomena. The artist herself has said that "my art is a magical art. I am a shamaness, a clairvoyant. I am in continuous transformation."

 A sublime drunkenness holds sway over these ecstatic territories across which sails the hand of the artist, who wields her gliding pen like a magic wand. Headstrong and incisive, Ody's impulsive line spurts forth tirelessly, to engender fascinating arabesques, eruptive knots, and shadowy niches within which nest seductive chimeras. The almost automatic flux she releases is like a warm bath whence float up the sighs and murmurs of sirens. It is alive with agile, transparent figures, which writhe and revolve, their limbs intertwined as they breathe the fragrance of physical rapture, all hint of anxiety dispelled. Here is the song of love endlessly repeated; here is the orgy which obliterates shame forever. Wherever you look, swollen lips and sexual parts plunge into cascades of proliferating forms, at once tactile and metaphorical, whence spurt forth flowers, fruits and fertile filaments. Vibration and echo pass though everything. And everything conjugates: murmur, miasma, mixture, menace, marvel, metamorphosis. Every so often, there juts forth a proud phallus, winged as in the myths of Antiquity. Ody Saban's erotic message is steadfast, a declaration of independence and of universal peace. As Françoise Monnin has observed, such artmaking is less like drawing than a form of tattooing, at once ferocious and tender, whereby the ink bites into the paper's skin and is absorbed like a long, venomous kiss.
A sibyl mediating between Asia and Europe, a sorceress whose mature years cannot subdue her persistent ardour, Ody Saban makes every effort, both in her work and her life-style, to rid herself of conventions and inhibitions, fighting back against a civilization intent upon obliterating all hint of spontaneity. "Nothing can stifle the breath of true self which comes from an authentic work" is one of her watchwords. Ody’s is a combative art in so far as her sexual hyperbole hastens the idea of a sublime and anarchic love which may, one day, take over the world. This utopian outlook, with its occult tinge, has affinities with that of a Gérard de Nerval, a Charles Fourier, an Octavio Paz.

  It may be added that the splendour of these colourful and polymorphous outbursts is made visible to us thanks to a special luminosity, one which owes nothing to the light of day. The truth is that Ody identifies with Lilith, that mighty goddess of the night whose lustral gaze sweeps across the earth, scarcely veiled by her terrifying black hair.

Personnel exhibition
Ody Saban Utopian Artist
Musée de L’art Différencié

Liege, Belgium, 2000