“At the beginning of times, there was no difference between people and animals. All the creatures lived on the Earth. People could transform themselves into animals if they wished and animals could become human beings. There was no difference.
Creatures were sometimes animals and sometimes people. Everyone spoke the same language. In those days, words were magic and the mind possessed mysterious powers. A word spoken at random could have strange consequences. It would suddenly come to life and wishes would come true. They only needed to be expressed. It cannot be explained. That was how it was!” (Inuit poem)
In this new series, Saba Niknam presents us with her narrative, illustrated fragments of dreams and imaginary stories in a land where animals reign supreme. Only the narrator, with her human face, travels through this polar landscape in black and white, in which the only glimmer of hope lies in the presence of a golden sun, recalling the work of the Greenlandic writer Henriette Lynge: “We traverse a frozen land covered in winter by darkness; words are guides that transcend the night”.
Like peoples with an oral tradition who build up their story from a corpus of legends, Saba Niknam weaves her legend around three main characters: the artist herself, a raven and a bear. She follows shamanic thinking in integrating symbols as ways of acting upon the world and its evils. Whereas European fables invite us to see human characteristics in animal guises, Saba Niknam captures much more than their characteristics in her narrative, as the magical essence of the animal and its power take effect. Convinced that all of us possess a corresponding animal soul from which we must learn, Saba attributes an animal form to all human beings, evoking a time when people and animals were one and communication between species was natural and complete. The idea that the spirit of a person or an animal, whilst unique to each of them and shaped by the body it occupies, also forms part of a transcendent whole, emerges through her drawings, which are built up from a succession of lines, repetitive acts inspired by shamanic rituals that find a means of exorcising evils in the phenomenon of repetition. The iterative sound of the pencil itself on the sheet of paper helps the artist to enter a sort of meditative state favouring the creative act.
The mask is a recurrent symbol in her work and can be found in some of her drawings: an object of metamorphosis, it transforms the person wearing it, so that a different identity can be adopted for the duration of a ceremony. And so Saba Niknam draws figures with animal masks, recalling the far-off time when people could turn into animals and animals could become humans.
Like tribes all around the world who use animal totems, receptacles of their mythical beliefs, their representation of the world and their emotions, Saba Niknam associates herself with the raven, which appears in traditional Nordic and North-American Amerindian tales and myths, as well as literature and legends across the ages. The French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss investigated this symbolism of the raven and formulated a theory that the raven became a mythical animal because it was seen as a mediator between life and death: in Nordic mythology, for instance, Huginn (“thought”) and Muninn (“memory”), names used by Saba Niknam as a pseudonym in the virtual world, were the two raven messengers of the blind god Odin, who provided him with news of the world. The raven, a messenger between two worlds, combining thought and memory, is a recurrent symbol in the work of Saba Niknam. So in her artwork we find an animist approach, in which Nature performs the function of a container for the unconscious and its architypes.
As a symbol of the transition between the animal impulse and human control, meanwhile, the bear has been described in numerous works of literature as representing “elementary forces prone to gradual evolution but also capable of formidable regressions” (L’ours dans la symbolique médiévale, Michel Salvat). Jung saw it as the embodiment of the dangerous facets of the unconscious. Like the large predators, the bear is one of the symbols of the chthonic unconscious (Dictionnaire des Symboles, Laffont, 1969). A creature that is born formless, in Saba Niknam’s imaginary narrative, it embodies the idea of chaos destined to become sublime under the influence of love, transforming a primitive being into a being in its own right.
Like Innuit mythology, Saba Niknam’s narratives emphasise the essential place occupied by the earth and the magical power of the word, which, as an affirmation of self, puts into action what it expresses. There is something of the dream narrative in Saba Niknam’s work: as an inevitable, powerful means of communication with other worlds, the experience of the dream exists for the dreamer only through the effort of memory and for others only through the dreamer’s account of it. This work based around memory is an essential part of Saba Niknam’s art. As she explains in her text La boîte noire : Chamanisme et Art: “I see my sketchbooks as black boxes recording my memory… the unconscious is expressed through dreams and everything takes on another meaning, another symbolism. Time seems to be suspended, images float”. So through her drawings, Saba Niknam retains a trace of her unconscious, as the intrapsychic image takes shape on paper, guided by the artist’s hand. As a result, the boundary between dream and reality, illusion and real becomes blurred; the visible and invisible worlds cohabit within an elusive pictorial universe without perspective. The burnt out stars represented by black circles are also all possible bridges towards other universes. Rather than voids, they are all portals leading to a parallel world, through which we can escape from our solar system. The black hole is the ogre of the cosmos, absorbing and feeding upon surrounding matter, becoming more powerful as it grows, until it can swallow entire stars. It is a dead star that appears as a space-time zone, a trap for matter and light, but also a generator of energy. In Saba Niknam’s world we find the teachings of the great spiritual traditions: beyond appearances, everything is in fact movement, vibration and energy. Everything is linked and connected with this great field of universal energy and within it. So she is saying that through our thoughts and our actions in everyday life, we have a real impact within this great collective unconscious that connects us, and hold the power to influence the world and the behaviour of those that constitute it.
 “The bear in medieval symbolism”.
 “Dictionary of symbols”.
 “The black box: shamanism and art”.