The gestural and the surreal meet in Viviane Sassen’s new exhibition of photographs, ‘SHE’, on view at Galleria Carla Sozzani Milan until mid-November. The celebrated Dutch photographer’s hypnagogic atmospheres come both from memories of her childhood (spent partly in Kenya, where her father worked as a doctor) and the celestial hues of blue in high contrasts that connect through these new works.

In an untitled piece from the series Roxane II (released by the publisher Oodee earlier this year as a photobook), the artist’s muse stares up at the camera, face daubed with white paint, her body contorted so that it no longer looks female. The female body is, as the title suggests, the subject of the exhibition (at least in part) – making Sassen’s choice of blue even more prominent. A call, perhaps, to subvert the way colour is traditionally used to suggest gender.

Her treatment of the female form is also refreshing. As a photographer who has moved freely between fashion and art contexts, Sassen is hyperaware of the shape of female bodies as they move and interact with the camera, and the way this in turn informs ideas of female identity. Her photographs embrace canonical and historical portrayals of women and their bodies, but refuse to let coded stereotypes emerge. In Uppsala (2017, from the series Mud and Lotus), Sassen directly addresses the symbolism of the feminine in surrealism, and associations of the female body as a site of procreation, fertility and transformation.

Similarly, in the same series’ Umana, Sassen paints her model, dressed in virginal white robes, in Yves Klein-esque paint, holding a child to her chest. The image is simultaneously mystical, disturbing and serene – qualities that describe many of Sassen’s female figures.

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