testimony_d_2017 Art by Amaia Salazar


You won’t dream the same after this intriguing aesthetic reflection on sleep paralysis and the cognitive games our minds play

Published: 02 January 2024

Author: Richard Lofthouse


Share this article


Amaia Salazar

Amaia Salazar (pictured, right) spoke to QUAD from her native Madrid, but is back in Oxford as 2024 dawns, where she is Academic Visitor, Ruskin School of Art, and Junior Research Fellow, Wolfson College.

Her exhibition, entry to which is free, is at the North Wall Arts Centre in South Parade, Summertown, in Oxford. Unmasking the Mind runs from Jan 10 to 20.

The artist and researcher has a longstanding interest in sleep paralysis, which apparently affects far more of us than is commonly understood. This is a condition where you can’t move despite awakening, and is typically be attended by a stressful mindset; or occasionally it might be a more benign or even friendly impression.

Amaia said it hit her when on holiday age 12, and it was terrifying. ‘But meditation cured me of it.’

The exhibition involves some extraordinary exhibits including an array of test tubes in which the public can place their own notes, thereby becoming part of the exhibition themselves (left: Testimony Analysis, (2017)).

Meanwhile some of the photography is dreamlike, hallucinatory, maybe surreal, such as the elaborately contrived stairwell of the lead image for this feature (Lead image: Testimony D. (2017)).

Yes – Amaia says she is fond of Salvador Dali (1904-1989), the Spanish surrealist. We expected nothing less!

But the original inspiration here is more to be found, she says, with the 1781 painting by the Swiss Henry Fuseli, The Nightmare. In it a ghostly pale woman lies draped inert on a bed, sat upon by an incubus – a sexual demon.

The painting is fascinating in its own right, but Amaia’s interest is also partly that it appears to try and visualise an emotional state.

‘It is very difficult to represent a sensation because it is invisible.’

In her research, which overlaps her other role as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Lecturer at Complutense University of Madrid, Spain, she is attempting to produce a cognitive emotional atlas.

Amaia’s approach has always been highly interdisciplinary. She says her work is basically interested in art, cognitive neuroscience and experimental psychology.

In fact her first engagement with Oxford was attending a short experimental psychology course five years ago in 2018.

The role of art is critical because we have all found ourselves reacting to a painting, or an artistic installation. Somehow it makes us feel something, even happiness, but rarely so simplistically.

But the question why, and to what to degree, well that is a hugely slippery subject.

During her time in Oxford, she has collaborated with Modern Art Oxford (MOA) giving the workshop “Conscious listening at the frontiers of the (in)visible”(2023), she has been awarded the first Wolfson Art Prize (2023) at Wolfson College, and organised several events bringing together Art and Science departments at Christ Church College and Wolfson College, respectively.

She says she had found it very stimulating to be in Oxford, and going from her college in North Oxford to the Ruskin School in Cowley means she can cross Oxford on a rather lovely walk.

Go and meet her, go and see the exhibition.

Unmasking the Mind, Jan 10-20, The North Wall Arts Centre, South Parade, Summertown, Oxford OX2 7JN. or call 01865 319 450.

Monday – Friday: 10am – 4pm
Saturday: 12pm – 4pm
Closed: Sundays & Bank Holidays

Special events:

Fri 12 January 2024 6-8pm

Please join us to welcome in this new exhibition.

Free event / no booking required

Artist Talk

Thurs 11 January 11am – 12pm

Please join Amaia Salazar for a talk about the exhibition and a tour of the works.

Free event / no booking required

In Conversation: Amaia Salazar and Tom Brennan

Fri 19 January 11am – 12pm

Please join Amaia Salazar and Tom Brennan for a discussion about the exhibition.

Tom Brennan is a director, playwright, filmmaker and actor. He is also a Creative Associate of The North Wall and The Geoffrey Garton Creative Fellow at Wolfson College. His multi-award winning theatre company, The Wardrobe Ensemble, is an associate company of Complicite, Bristol Old Vic and Shoreditch Town Hall. His work with the company has been performed at The National Theatre, Almeida Theatre, Trafalgar Studios and Soho Theatre among many other venues across the UK and USA.

Free event / no booking required

Dr Amaia Salazar Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Lecturer, Faculty of Arts, Complutense University of Madrid, Spain; Academic Visitor, Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford, UK; Junior Research Fellow, Wolfson College