Sculptor Isabelle Albuquerque: Ten People, Two Cities, One Body

Whimsey, gravitas, politics, and sex combine with wide-ranging materials to discover many beings in one body.


In an arresting series of 10 nearly life-size sculptures, Isabelle Albuquerque uses her own body as a prototype, manifesting versions of herself across multiple forms and materials—generating headless female figures in wood, bronze, marble, wax, and fur, arranged on plinths, pedestals, and plush pads, and provocatively posed with props like candles, a well-placed saxophone, and even a baby grand. On view at Jeffrey Deitch, Albuquerque’s Orgy For Ten People In One Body represents the completed project of which Los Angeles audiences got a mid-point preview at the September 2020 exhibition Sextet at Nicodim Gallery, which featured six sculptures from what would become the full suite.

Within the series, female figures are presented without heads—an aesthetic gesture that could in other contexts be rather frightening, but in this instance records a sly pun on fashion mannequins and tropes of art history, sexual mystique, and arcane ritual. While this choice seems to obscure individual identity within the pieces, remember that they are all self-portraits of the artist, all conceived and presented as facets of her identity, memory, experience, emotions, dreams, and the myths and fables that influenced those things in her life.

As symbolic facets of herself, the narration is a meta story of poetic vignettes, a mosaic of traits and poetic snippets that are very much the parts of a whole. Among the sculptures are a speckled hooved faun, a vaginal musician, the ecstasy burning in the fleeting light of a candle, the eternal silence of bronze, the seductive tactility of wood grain, the purity of alabaster, the resilient dark strength of rubber—all speaking to the constant push and pull of invitation and resistance at the core of the female experience.


Another birthing/motherhood image involves teddy bears, the softest, sweetest little succubi.


At certain moments the sculptures are whimsical, such as the svelte wolflike figure delicately draped across the piano like a gentle lupine lounge singer. At others, like the bound hands of one figure or the Renaissance-inflected tomblike pose of another, the tone turns somber or political. The ultra-reflective high-gloss metal one with the saxophone emerging from a reclining figure’s nether regions as though in birthing is a witty and worthy metaphor for a lot of things—the creative process, a venerated yet relegated source of voice and power—and is suitably both fun and discomforting to look at. Another birthing/motherhood image involves teddy bears, the softest, sweetest little succubi. One of the work’s most special powers is the ability—like its author herself—to be and to contain many things, multitudes of contradictory things, all at once, all in one body and all in one consciousness—specifically, a female body, and an artist’s singular mind.

Albuquerque is the daughter of Lita Albuquerque, the granddaughter of Ferida “Fred” Albuquerque, and the great-granddaughter of Smarda the Jewel—a matriarchal lineage of artists from North Africa that also includes her sister Jasmine, an acclaimed dancer and choreographer. Isabelle, too, has a background in dance and movement; she is a member of the Los Angeles performance group Hecuba, which she founded with her longtime partner Jon Ray. Albuquerque and Ray are also founders of Osk, a studio that develops artificial intelligence to “create and look at art and individual experience through hybrid human and nonhuman perspectives.”

All of these interrelated pathways from feminism to futurism, humanism, and whatever is next, merge together in this project, creating a rich fusion of deeply personal, somatic narratives enacted through the artist’s own body, enhanced and interpreted through the agencies of fascinating robotic and code-based technologies, and expressed again in sculptures of eerie allure, assertive sexual power, fantastical imagination, and undeniable material presence.

Isabelle Albuquerque: Orgy For Ten People In One Body

18 Wooster Street
Through January 28

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