Martyrdom was Italian artist Giovanni Leonardo Bassan’s first solo exhibition in the U.A.E. It is with an unashamed sensitive approach, abundant in emotion, that his paintings lead us to ponder. Martyrdom explores what we were and what we have become. Between figuration and abstraction, the characters stand on neutral backgrounds to further emphasize the incisive urgency of a collective awakening. Gold, the only visible noble material is accompanied by brutal materials, inviting us to review priorities and reconsider fundamentals. The work of Giovanni Leonardo Bassan can be seen as one thought stemmed from the past that travels ineluctably to the present and that with great power and a soupçon of violence, calls back into question our identity and our responsibilities as human beings.

An apparition of icons vacates the place of worship and transfers onto the canvas, to speak of something, of us, of the then-and-now. A meeting that takes place halfway between past and present, which drives us to question contemporary viewpoints and epochal perceptions.

We have long taken an aesthetic distance from the portrayal of martyr scenes in old masters paintings but here, the superimposition of eras invites the spectator to sense the idea of sacred cruelty, rather than merely contemplate it. The bodies are bluntly exposed, the detailing sombre, only to overlap holy suffering with modern self-fulfillment. In doing so, as a counterpoint, Martyrdom exposes the deep question of the transfiguration of these subjects by beauty. It is at this point that the hourglass is reversed. Time has accelerated its march; the saints have turned to abstraction in the form of youth thrown on our streets and into our lives, devoid of veneration. Only the golden halo, forlorn relic of history, remains to remind us of who they are. Past icons have now been left open to contemporary interpretation, each symbol exposed to endless understandings. What might have been one’s saint is now another’s hero.