Better World

Em Aull, Sema Dayoub, Zakiya Mowat

Curated by Paula Castro Martinez

January 6th January 29th, 2023

Press Release & Works List

Despite explicit evidence of environmental collapse and the failure of the US political system, a better world is possible because I, Paula Castro Martinez, say so. Organized using the strategies of numerology and manifestation, the group exhibition Better World offers the theory that a new reality can be built when one’s attention is tuned only to the signs that support their desired utopia while blissfully ignoring any red flags that may appear along the way. I am also choosing to ignore what happens when other people impose their reality on mine. When you are here, only my better world exists.

Better World brings together three artists who image my ideal political landscape. The show features works by Em Aull (New York City), Sema Dayoub (Brooklyn, NY), and Zakiya Mowat (Oakland, CA). I organized this exhibition, and it is my first independent curatorial project in New York City.

Insisting on hope in 2023 requires a radical imagination. I’m going to act as if we’re already there. The numerology of 23 represents innovation, change, and revolution. Relying on numerology for its predictive abilities is preferred fuel for my better world. This is an important moment to consider the potential of 2023. Every crisis can be an opportunity, and these artworks invite us to imagine that the opportunity may, despite everything, be generative.

Hope is what unites these featured artists, each offering a method of transforming interior desire into physical reality. This doesn’t mean that their depictions are solely joyous or a sugarcoated form of escapism. Instead, the artists find ways to challenge entrenched concepts such as individualism and anthropocentrism. This is done with a sense of mischief, generosity, and curiosity integral to transcending pervasive darkness, suggesting a shared capacity for collectively finding our way out of the current political conditions.

Selected works of Aull’s depict harmony in city spaces after the dissolution of the police state and capitalism. His paintings feature cityscapes in which advertising space is dedicated to his favorite music, neighbors share gossip and texts between open windows, and broad cityscapes image seamless cohabitation without the intervention of the police. Aull turns the ruling order on its head: in his world, the people win, and capitalist America loses.

Nassim “Sema” Dayoub is a Syrian-American artist living and working in Brooklyn. Dayoub is predominantly known for their prowess as a tattoo artist, and their paintings are informed by their perspective as a queer Arab-American. The act of tattooing is another form of attraction and self-creation reliant on symbols. Signs, numbers, and symbols related to desired outcome are selected and then affirmed repeatedly through pattern recognition and confirmation bias. Dayoub’s work acknowledges the body as a starting point for creating change and transformation. Using symbols and signaling on the skin is another method of attracting like-minded constituents and turning the self into a place of activation, divination, and change.

Zakiya Mowat’s inquiries into entomology, Black women in the adult movie industry, and the sounds of the African diaspora inform her artistic practice. Her series of drawings and collages utilize insect life cycles and metamorphosis as conceptual grounding for the value of using sex appeal to change someone’s mind. Her poised, thick, and willing anthropomorphized bugs subvert the human-as-superior dominant ideology that is so intrinsic to capitalism. They offer the possibility that the unfamiliar and what may at first repel can be subverted into a confounding and healthy attraction. Nested inside of the fantasy for the end of human-first philosophy is a hopeful outcome for climate change. One where nature gains the same agency taken by people now. Mowat’s centerfold ready, stacked bug people offer the potential for equality for the natural world.

By proposing the possibility of this reality, the one I want, it is primed to become real.


EM AULL is an Indianapolis-born painter based in New York City. As a genre painter, his work depicts expansive cityscapes, city happenings, and crowd dynamics, often proposing fantastic scenarios of unbridled freedom. His compositions often feature mass gatherings around entertainment, including wrestling matches, demolition derby, sporting events, or a day at the beach. Aull primarily paints with acrylic, often incorporating mixed media such as bricks, wood, and glass. He generates literal depth through layers of found materials encased in acrylic plastic substrate, incorporating media such as hype stickers from vintage records, lenticular sheeting, and ephemera from magazines and newspapers. The resulting artworks include relevant supplementary materials, generating an ever-evolving archive and personal record. His paintings create a timeline of references, interests, and studies that mark the progression of his practice. These found materials appear in Aull’s compositions as they would in life: a book in the hands of a person reading on the subway, billboards in cityscapes, or the picture on a television screen.

Nassim “Sema” Dayoub is a Queer Arab artist living and working in New York City. Known for their work as a tattoo artist, painter and writer. Each aspect of their practice is informed by their lived experience as a transgender Syrian-American. They strive to make work that helps the wearer, viewer or reader feel liberated and empowered.