Date of Award

Spring 6-3-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)



First Advisor

Megan Foster

Second Advisor

Johnny Adimando

Third Advisor

Mark Cetilia


“This is the good washing, this is (the washing) which separates the dirty body from the pure body. This is like silver mixed with lead, it is separated from it by this (process): one makes for it a cupel of bones, which is what is called the “head of the dog” and of which the common name is kūja-which is the crucible—and this must be made of burnt bones. One melts the silver in it, one gives it a strong fire: the cupel will absorb and receive the lead, the fire will make its subtle (part) fly away and extirpate it, and there will remain unmixed silver with no adulteration in it.” — Maslama b. Qāsim al-Qurtubī (339-342 or 906-964) from Rutbat al-hakīm (The Rank of the Sage)

My practice occupies several crossroads—crossroads between pattern and poetry, ritual and time, artifact and the body, and obsession along with devotion. Curiosity is my primary medium. I draw somatic influences from my childhood and young adulthood as a ballet dancer; as a result, I seek to work viscerally. In my studio, to work viscerally means to reference my own body from a visual and an internal, felt perspective. Utilizing my dance background in unconventional ways outside of the pressures of the traditional Vaganova-style ballet studio in which I grew up is integral to my work. Subverting dance allows me to be both innovative in defining what dance is through a constant exploration and redefinition, as well as allowing space for kindness towards my physical form, a kindness that was out of the question in intensive ballet training. I no longer see my body as a tool to wield perfectly, but my apparatus in expressions of imperfect, asymmetrical, lively bodily autonomy. Freestyle movement as expression is a celebratory act of what is inevitable in human existence. One of many inevitabilities is the end of the experience in the imperfect human vessel.

My practice is influenced by the metallurgic process of cupellation, from both visual and metaphorical perspectives. Cupellation is a refining process in metallurgy where ores or alloyed metals are treated under very high temperatures, typically using hot air from a furnace, to separate noble metals from base metals present in the ore. I believe that a similar process of moving from impurity to purity is present in the collective human psyche in terms of our relationship to technological advancements involving the human body. Notions of high pressure and undergoing transformative processes seem akin to the scientific journey towards life-extending implementations, while the color changes involved in the cupellation process echo the human corpse in the decaying process. This shared quality of color change reminds me of the inevitability of death, but equally the transformative qualities in the processes of life. The human body is alchemical and mortal in tandem. Only a mortal existence can be an alchemical one, and an alchemical species such as humans comes with technology, the thirst for discovery, and the yearning to live without constraint. However, without death, life would have no meaning. My work is a meditation on the human body as artifact outside of time as we continue to attempt to escape aging, natural disaster, decay, and our inevitable transformation into something else entirely.


View exhibition online: Isa Ghanayem, فرن الأرواح



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