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Artist Profile: Lin May Saeed

On the late artist and inspiration of „Thinking Like a Mountain“ at GaMec Bergamo and the 9th Biennale Gherdeina.


Hi there, how do you live?

We live in small groups, have no fixed partnerships.
Build widely branching tunnel systems,
in which our young are born, naked and blind.
We also reproduce when imprisoned.

I live solitary. Sleep in a shallow hollow.
My offspring are born with fur and open eyes.
I have never been domesticated.

We don’t quite know.
Until we have found out, we wage wars.

– Lin May Saeed


Fig. 1

In Ortisei and Bergamo, a homage to an artist becomes a homage to interconnectedness between humans, animals and nature. The late Lin May Saeed receives accolades from the curators Lorenzo Giusti and Marta Papini on her views and works pondering ecological and philosophical dimensions of coexistence. Saeed’s work may disguise the cruelty of our rapidly changing world through her seemingly naïve aesthetics, characterized by the use of humble materials such as Styrofoam and papier-mâché. But these are more than just lightweight, sometimes expressionist sculptures that reflect humanity’s hegemony over art and nature. Saeed turns every pedestal displaying her works in a cage, one that also serves as packing for the work’s shipment from one exhibition space to another. Disarming and profound, her sculptures depict animals in various states of interaction with the world, and each other, challenging traditional narratives and anthropocentric hierarchies. The title of the exhibition both at Spazio Trenker and GaMec Bergamo transcends both the animal and the human: "Thinking Like a Mountain". The title is borrowed from the environmentalist Aldo Leopold, suggesting a perspective that sees humans as a component part of the ecosystem rather than its dominators.


Fig. 2

Born in Germany to a German mother of Jewish descent and an Iraqi father, Lin May Saeed (1973-2023) devoted her career to creating an original imagery of solidarity among the diverse lifeforms inhabiting the earth, weaving mythological and political explorations that makes the relationships between humans and non-humans graspable beyond scientific language, or language at all. Her sculptures, reliefs, drawings, paintings, and steel gates tell stories of liberation and coexistence, emphasizing empathy and mutual respect, recontextualizing biblical passages and to address present day concerns regarding consumerism and waste. Saeed’s use of recycled materials not only aligns with her ecological themes, but materializes the roughness, fragility and resilience of our bodies fighting against, or transforming through, the same materials in our daily lives. We are full of micro-plastics these days, captives actively recovering from their toxicity.

Fig. 3

The Liberation of Animals from their Cages, as well as Hawr al-Hammar/Hammar Marshes (2020) provide examples of these reflections of our own captivity as humans. In her version of Noah’s biblical episode, the animals are not passive passengers but active agents of their own salvation. Because Lin May Saeed was not only an artist but also an ardent animal rights activist, her work reflects a profound empathy and commitment to animal liberation, both in her artistic endeavors and her personal life. Her works might not be understood as overtly political, yet they embody her deep involvement in activism, portraying a world where empathy extends beyond human subjects. One of her most significant works includes an installation originally created for the Clark Art Institute in Massachusetts, which features seven figures, both human and non-human, not least a dog named Mila. The piece references the story of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus (2020), a tale shared across medieval Christian traditions and found in the Quran. Saeed’s interpretation highlights the dog as an integral member of the group seeking refuge from persecution, emphasizing the continuity and interconnectedness of life. Her interest in these themes is evident in the selection of works chosen by the curator Lorenzo Giusti in Bergamo. These include representations of animals liberated from their cages. The pieces depict a variety of animals, from those existing today to those long extinct, creating a dialogue about species survival and human impact.


Fig. 4

Giusti, together with Valentina Gervasoni, edited a pocket book containing a collection of short stories written by Lin May Saeed in the early 2000s, entitled Fables. It offers essential interpretive keys to her body of works, crystallizing the harshness in which Saeed looks at the world, regardless of its moral suprematisms. These tales, paradoxical, ironic, and at times sarcastic, explore fundamental issues of interspecies coexistence. For instance, in "Hi there, how do you live?", a dialogue between humans, rabbits, and hares, which critiques the absurdity of wars and their justifications. In "The Silence of the Animals", Saeed delves into theories concerning the supposed inability of animals to respond to human violence, suggesting deep meditative states, or imperceptibly slow speech, as possible explanations for the phenomenon, raising questions about animal psychology and the lenses, be they philosophical or scientific, through which we understand non-human lives.


Fig. 5


In tales such as the story of the man and the ape, or "Riding Attempts with Fatal Outcome", humans are portrayed undergoing zoomorphization, inviting readers to view interspecies relationships from alternative viewpoints. GAMeC augments the exhibition with several interactive and educational components different to the dynamics in which Saeed’s show at the Biennale Gherdeina connects with a bigger conceptual frame, “The Parliament of Marmots”. Workshops for children and adults focus on creating art from recycled materials, echoing Saeed’s own methods. Additionally, a series of lectures and panel discussions on topics such as animal rights, environmental ethics, and sustainable living are scheduled throughout the exhibition's run. These programs aim to deepen the public’s engagement with the themes presented in Saeed’s work. "Thinking Like a Mountain" has been overwhelmingly positively received, even though the space is hardly comparable to the scale that it enjoyed at the Georg Kolbe Museum in Berlin, where the access to natural light and Kolbe’s sculpture garden allowed the works to engage not only with pressing global issues, but also with a legacy of sculptural transformation as a mirror of socio-political turmoil. The exhibition makes it even harder not to mourn her personal absence, as her unique artistic vision provides more than just a space of quiet contemplation, rather a space to confront the violence of reality as part of ourselves. 


Fig. 6


By compelling viewers to rethink their relationship with animals and the environment, this homage to Lin May Saeed not only highlights critical ecological issues but also offers a hopeful vision for a more empathetic and sustainable world. The GAMeC in Bergamo provides an ideal setting for this important work, offering a space for reflection, education, and inspiration in its entrance hall. Despite her battle with brain cancer, Saeed remained committed to her art practice until the end. These two exhibitions were the last projects she would complete. Her legacy is preserved today by the gallerist Jacky Strenz and through exhibitions that continue to showcase her hopeful vision of coexistence and mutual respect.


The exhibition at GAMeC Bergamo runs until September 22, 2024.

Fig. 7

  • Images:

    Cover: Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, 2020, Steel, Styrofoam, jute, fabric, acrylic paint, paper, dry plant (lagurus ovatus), glass, water, cord, wood, screed cardboard paper; 215 x 450 x 100 cm; Installation view of Arrival of the Animals (photo: Robert Wiesenberger), The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, US, 2020 (Solo Show)

    Fig 1. - 5.: Lin May Saeed, Installation views - GAMeC, Bergamo, 2024, Photo: Antonio Maniscalco. Courtesy GAMeC - Galleria d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Bergamo



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