“I Want to Shrink,” Michele Amira Pinczuk, 2019, digital photograph
“I Want to Shrink 2,” Michele Amira Pinczuk, 2019, digital photograph
The notion of the personal is pushed yet further forward by the photographs by—and of—Washingtonian Michele Amira Pinczuk in her hospital room, tubes wrapping themselves around her upper torso, neck and—in one of the two images—providing oxygen directly into her nostrils. A small hamseh hangs from her neck. The artist is both almost nonchalant and distinctly reflective about how to entitle these images—“either ‘Mishebeyrakh’ or ‘Hand of Miriam/Fatima kamiyah’.” The first title refers to the opening words (in English translation) of a prayer offered usually as part of the liturgy that surrounds the Torah reading, asking for physical cure as well as spiritual healing for a given individual and all those within and beyond the community who require it: “…may He who blessed our ancestors… bless and heal the one who is ill…overflow with compassion upon him/her, restore him/her. heal him/her…”). The second title refers to the hamseh (known in Muslim circles also as “the hand of Fatima”—daughter of Muhammad—and in Jewish circles, more recently, as “the hand of Miriam,” sister of Moses and Aaron. The title would recognize that hamseh around Amira’s neck as an amulet (kamiyah).
The artist explains that, afflicted with an auto-immune disease, she struggles continuously with pain and because of her autism, communicating with medical professionals can be difficult. The pair of self-portraits followed a severe asthma attack—severe enough that she required a monitor for her heartbeat and oxygen to help her breathe—in which, as usual, her mother was her champion, not only in communicating with the doctors but in pushing her not to give up on herself. “My mother is my guardian angel who fights for me even when I want to stop fighting; she is my shekhinah”—the immanence of God; the presence of God that is with and within us (as opposed to transcendent; far away from us, as explored most fruitfully in the Jewish mystical tradition).
Hidden behind the starkly frank self-representation is thus a multiple-generation chain of connectedness, of which Amira’s mother is the first link. Beyond that, “as the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, especially when my auto-immune disease attacks, my Jewish identity based on that heritage gives me immense comfort. It is part of what helps me to keeps me moving on.”
The artist has not provided a biography.