Donna Bassin is a photo-based artist, filmmaker, trauma psychologist, professor, and published author who was born in Brooklyn and now living in New Jersey. The death of her younger sister when she was ten years old and her family’s difficulty mourning have motivated and shaped her clinical and art practices.
Her long-term projects respond to the grave injuries and losses of contemporary life, such as the aftermath of September 11, coming home after the war, racism, social injustice, and, most recently, the destruction of the environment.
Those pursuits have resulted in two award-winning documentaries – Leave No Soldier, a story of two generations of American war veterans making their passage from grief to activism, and The Mourning After, a series of dialogues following the efforts of some veterans to transform themselves and their communities from bystanders to witnesses of the consequences of war –, two solo museum exhibitions, publications in various art and culture periodicals, public installations, book covers, inclusion in both private and museum collections, a billboard in Brooklyn, and participation with other artists in curated group shows. Tricycle, Fotonostrum, Grazia Magazine, and Lens Magazine have published her work.
Her photo-based installations have appeared at the Jamestown Arts Center, Smack Mellon, Newark Museum, Montclair Art Museum, Mills Reservation, and Jersey City. She received the 2021 New Jersey Council on the Arts Fellowship in Photography, was honored as a Showcase artist for Art Fair 14C in Jersey City, was chosen as one of the Top 50 Photographers for Critical Mass 2022, and was selected as a Finalist for Critical Mass 2023.
My Own Witness, her portrait series, began as a collaboration with individuals who felt invisible and unentitled in the American moment following the 2016 Presidential election. The subjects told their stories through poses, gestures, and props, asserting their identity and humanity. A follow-up series inspired by the Japanese practice of Kintsugi, My Own Witness: Rupture and Repair, was featured as a solo exhibit at the Espaço D’Artes Gallery in Lisbon, Portugal, Soho Photo Gallery in Manhattan, New York, and the Passaic County Arts Center in Hawthorne, New Jersey. It will travel to Mira Forum in Porto, Portugal, in April 2024.
By Our Own Hand, a collaboration with Frontline Arts, was a year-long installation at the Montclair Art Museum dedicated to bringing veterans’ experiences into the civilian culture and opening dialogues around veteran suicide.
Environmental Melancholia, a photo series dedicated to building awareness and assisting the community’s difficulties in engaging with the climate crisis, was recently on exhibition at Carter Burden Gallery, New York. It has been featured in Photolucida’s Imminent Existence at Photographic Center Northwest in Seattle and published in South Korea’s Vostok Magazine, FLOAT Magazine, and LandEscape Art Review.
As the environment undergoes severe damage, it’s not just our physical survival at stake; there’s a surge in existential dread and anxiety about annihilation. In response, many people freeze or flee, submitting to denial, helplessness, and inaction. Apathy doesn’t signify a lack of concern for the environmental decline but rather a response to unrecognized losses that need addressing.
Environmental Melancholia uses visual metaphors to celebrate the natural world and highlight the precariousness of our global ecological system. The purpose is to represent and titrate overwhelming fear about the climate into manageable doses and thus facilitate a transformation in the viewer from a passive bystander stuck in environmental melancholia to an active witness who can engage with the urgent narrative of the climate crisis. Inspired by and reacting to the idealized allure of the Hudson River School, the photographs are pictorial and idyllic at first glance. But a closer look punctures the sublime by revealing a photograph of a flourishing nature scene on rice paper affixed to a base print of a depleted environment, challenging observers to look beyond their expectations and ask, “Wait, what is happening here?”
I alter the colors and scale of two nature landscapes with editing tools, then materially link the photographs through a color relationship or composition – for example, a mountain’s curve to a line in a stream – and secure them with photo corners. Harkening to a postcard from the past, each montage references souvenirs gathered in a scrapbook: our natural world reduced to a nostalgic relic.
Our planet is in a precarious place, disintegrating as we lose glaciers, animals, trees, and fertile land. With this series, I attempt to stop things from vanishing, fix the harm, restore the losses, and put the land back together. I tear natural resources from a photograph of another environment and hastily connect them to a depleted one with Japanese washi tape or embroidery thread, beckoning viewers to join me in a visceral experience of damage and repair. [Official Website]