On June 20th, 2016, the solstice and the full moon fell on the same day. That evening a very skinny, scared but hauntingly beautiful little kitty named Salma was dropped off at our New York City apartment. The week before, after searching “Persian” on Petfinder.com, we had come across her picture—a vision of kitty perfection. Enticed by her beauty, we ignored the gentle warning that she had “issues” and after a brief meeting in New Jersey, went ahead with the adoption.
It wasn’t until later that we learned she had been dumped on the doorstep of a known animal advocate who worked closely with ESMA, The Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals in Cairo. There had been two other kitties in the carrier with her, one of which later died. Her origin was unknown but it’s common for Persians to be bred in as high-end luxury items for pet stores, and then discarded in the streets if not sold as kittens. Feral cats and dogs are often poisoned or live scavenging from the garbage. Before meeting Salma, we had no idea about the animal welfare situation in Egypt but there are people and organizations trying their best to rescue both dogs and cats and send them on to better lives.
Somehow she arrived with her kitty passport and carrier on our doorstep in Manhattan under the full moon. We changed her name to Bun Ra, (after the great jazz musician, Sun Ra), and made sure she had lots of food and as much love as she would tolerate.
Bun came to us the year before my boyfriend and I both suffered great loss—the loss of our mothers. Mine in 2017 and his in 2018. I cannot image having gone through these difficult years without the steady company of Bun.
Bun Ra is so beautiful with her intense golden eyes and soft, pure-white coat. It wasn’t long before I realized I had to paint her. She appeared in a few solo portraits but her biggest role is in my On the Couch series, which are a take on self-analysis.
She’s a little bit of a contrarian when it comes to physical contact, but when the lights come out she starts strutting around and will even roll at our feet when we’re trying to set things up.
For my painting Gone Fishing she actually jumped on the couch and posed in the fishnet I had set up. I painted her exactly as she posed, perfectly positioned in the shadows under my legs. I could never have made her do that and it was perfect for the painting. She doesn’t like to be held for very long so in the paintings where I’m holding her in my arms she’s usually glowering out at the viewer or pushing away from me, adding a little comical subtext of unrequited love.
I am continually inspired by her physical beauty as well as her self-contained, mystical feline cool. Her appearance in my paintings always enhances them and life is greatly improved by her presence.
We don’t know what Bun’s first year of life was like, but we do know she was dumped on the right person’s doorstep, taken to a rescue in Cairo where she was cared for and stayed for several months before being put on a 24-hour flight to JFK. She was then taken to another rescue in New Jersey—an apartment with 12 cats—where she stayed until our paths crossed.
When she came to us she was skinny, unsocialized and really insecure. For a long time, she didn’t understand that we were her friends. She’d bite our ankles for food even when she had plenty. We couldn’t touch her for very long without her snapping or scratching. It was almost a reflex. It was like living with a little snake!
But after all our pampering she has softened. Now she’s a fluffy, sassy little muse who hardly ever bites our ankles anymore, and loves to play and purr and roll on her head for chin scratches. She still dislikes to be held and snuggles are almost always out of the question, which of course just makes us want to please her more. She’s a tough little beauty queen who has overcome a lot and now she seems like a truly happy cat.
Rose Freymuth-Frazier is a figurative oil painter whose work draws from feminine psychology. Through self-analysis and an obsession with detail, both technical and psychological, her paintings explore pressing issues shaping the contemporary western woman’s experience. She lives and paints in New York City.