Ekphrasis: Sabrinaa Nightfire

Sabrinaa Nightfire, photographed for the 1000+ Avatars project by Gracie Kendal

I keep telling artists they are “on the list.” The list is my ever growing roster of artists whose work inspires me, and about whom I am moved to write in this column. But as this is not my full-time job (I wish!), and time is finite, I can only do these as time allows – particularly because I put a lot of thought into them. And thought = time. And again, time is finite. And I think this sense of finite time is being felt with a deep, regretful poignancy today in the SL art world, for one of its brightest lights has passed from our virtual cosmos.

Last night, Debbie Berman, known to us as Sabrinaa Nightfire, lost her battle with cancer.

Her close friend and collaborator George Janick (Dr. Gary Zabel) wrote:

It is my sad task to tell you that our very dear friend Sabrinaa Nightfire passed away Sunday evening after a long struggle with cancer. She died at home in bed with her family present. Those of us who were close to her know how many lives she touched so deeply with her love and her art. There is no one who can ever replace her. We will have a memorial on her island of Erato, the place she loved best in Second life, at a date to be announced. Our hearts go out to her family and rl and sl friends.


Sabrinaa was on my list. And I will not pretend for a second that I knew her well, or was close with her. But I will say that my list is selective, and that means her work moved me. And how I wish I hadn’t let finite time runaway with my opportunity to talk to her more about her work. Regular readers know that these articles always include an interview. So here is what I have, a brief exchange from almost a year ago, back when I believed this would actually be a bi-weekly column:

Rowan Derryth: Hi there Sabrinaa!  Your installation at Enter is incredible!
Sabrinaa Nightfire: thank you so much, Rowan:)
Rowan Derryth: My pleasure! I’d really like to feature you in my Ekphrasis column… I’m trying not to ask too far ahead because I don’t want people to think I’ve forgotten them 🙂
Sabrinaa Nightfire: cool, thank you. I am honored.
Rowan Derryth: I’m scheduled about a month out now. But you are definitely on my list.
Sabrinaa Nightfire: no worries, just let me know when you are ready
Rowan Derryth: Great!  Also, I noticed in your profile you are from Florida… I was born and raised in Miami 🙂
Sabrinaa Nightfire: Oh, cool, I went to Miami last week… I love it there
Rowan Derryth: Aw, say hi to my mom 🙂 I live in Scotland now
Sabrinaa Nightfire: Wow, cool, how do  you like it?
Rowan Derryth: Wonderful 🙂 It is very wet.
Sabrinaa Nightfire: I have never been there, but it is on my list
Rowan Derryth: 🙂
Sabrinaa Nightfire: 🙂

There it is, my one exchange with her. And what can we learn, besides the fact that I let time get the better of me? She was warm, gracious, friendly, humble, and she had a ‘list’ of her own that sadly got cut short far, far too early.

Bloom, by Sabrinaa Nightfire

As I barely knew her, I hesitated to write this, and hesitated even more in calling it an Ekphrasis. However I did promise she was on the list, and so here it is. I have no earth-shattering revelations to offer, and cannot fairly write this column in the manner I wish as my conversations with the artists are integral to my discussions of their work. Thus, I have only one thing to say about her work: it is full of life. Go and visit Bloom on Erato Caerleon (she was at the centre of this art collective), and you will see what I mean. Magnificent and wondrous flowers burst from the virtual soil, and it is difficult today to not see them as emblems of her own spirit. Only one work here speaks of her struggle: Stage 4, a simple platform with phrases that vocalize her thoughts of anger at having stage four cancer. The one that hit me the hardest was “I have a lot more art to make.” A pose ball with the text “I am SO Angry!” allows one to have a virtual tantrum – something that some might find theraputic today.

Stage 4, by Sabrinaa Nightfire

I am standing in Caerleon now amidst her outlandish, vibrant flowers, where compatriots (equally outlandish and vibrant) have been gathering throughout the day to create a memorial. You would think we were at the most elite of art openings to see the names gathered here, but these were simply her friends, those who she touched, influenced, and delighted with her work: Miso Susanowa, Scottius Polke, White Lebed, Apollo Reinard, Wizzy Gynoid, MommaLuv Skytower, Misprint Thursday, RAG Randt, Gracie Kendal, Solkide Auer, Betty Tureaud, Bettina Tizzy, Soror Nishi… and so many more, coming and going. All talking about her, remembering, sharing… when I arrived, it was just Miso and Gracie:

“I was telling Gracie, Sab was the first person to ask me for my work, and the first person here to arrange a showing for me. She was my art-mother here,” said Miso.

Friends gather to talk, laugh, and remember.

So many thoughts like that we shared, and fond memories of the way in which she challenged artists too:

“I so loved her super fun texture challenge,” remembered Bettina, Fairy Godmother of Not Possible In Real Life (NPIRL). “Looking through my profile at goodies I have from her. That was one of the best concepts.” I asked her about it, and she shared:

Nine textures are provided by us. Participants create a work of art using these textures.
These are the rules:
1. You may only use these textures…no other textures are allowed. You may use any or all of the textures…or even just one of the nine.
2. The maximum size of your piece is 10x10x10 m.
3. You may use a maximum of 20 prims.

Then Bettina exclaimed, “Oooo! And then there was her One Prim Wonder Challenge! Another fab concept!”

“There was a no texture show too,” remembered Scottius, then with a grin he added, “I told her I am too addicted to textures, so she made me a judge.”

RAG Randt, Scottius Polke, SaveMe OHare, and Bryn Oh amidst Sabrinaa's work and memorial.

More arrive: Bryn Oh, Josina Burgess, Rose Borchovski. And then perhaps my favourite moment thus far… the notorious SaveMe Oh – in the guise of her twin SaveMe OhHare – descended upon us. [For those unfamiliar, SaveMe enjoys a form of performance art reminiscent of Futurist riots, in which she heckles her subject (an artist, a lecturer, an exhibit, what have you) incessantly (although, in fairness, I’ve found myself reluctantly agreeing with her caustic observations on occasion), and does not relent until she gets banned.] She immediately asked the crowd “Now who has to unban me here?” She then shared, “my last words to her: SaveMe Oh: when you unban me; SaveMe Oh: ?”

“Did she answer?” I wondered aloud.

“No,” said SaveMe.  This brought smiles and laughter, and then she shared a lovely video (she is also a rather interesting machinimatographer) which she shot using one of Sabrinaa’s works, which she has kindly allowed me to link to here:

Today she wouldn’t even try to be banned.

I was going to open this space for comments of those who knew her – and I still welcome them – but perhaps more appropriately, Soror Nishi, who shares Sabrinaa’s love of flowers, has already welcomed this at her blog, and so I encourage all to visit there: http://sorornishi.blogspot.com/2011/03/sabrinaa-nightfire.html

And for those who did not have the privilege of knowing her, take some time out to visit Erato Caerleon. You can also see more of her virtual life and work at her flickr photostream.

Even to those whose lives she touched only briefly, Sabrinaa Nightfire will be deeply missed. A comment from Gwen Carillon sums up the general view of her eloquently: “Sabrinaa was an artist in the true sense. She loved art enough to support it in others … not just her own work. She helped so many artists. She wasn’t afraid to take artistic risks, for her it was a love affair with art.  That was my impression. I didn’t know her well but she helped me and was always encouraging and positive.”

I am confident that like her flowers, she is somewhere blooming eternal.

Sabrinaa with dear friend Glyph Graves at the Enter exhibit opening. Photo by Sabrinaa Nightfire.


  1. A wonderful tribute, Rowan. Thank you for helping me ‘meet’ Sabrinaa… sadly, too late – but her life has still touched me.

  2. Thank you, Rowan, for this beautiful tribute to Sabrinaa/Debbie. And thank you also for posting her work in your blog. All of the tributes in Second Life really comfort us, her family. We are all her family, though, aren’t we? In some wonderful way that is about the juncture of art and love.

  3. A really nice tribute and its so sad to hear that Sabrinaa/Debbie has passed away. She will be missed and her spirit will go on for sure.

    Her work is beautiful and amazing in many different ways. Life is not fair when people go including family and friends.


  4. yes a beautiful tribute she will live on thru her work 🙂

    i borrowed a small piece of it for my blog but was sure to link back. i hope you don’t mind.

  5. Thank you Rowan for sharing some of Sabrina’s life with us. Sadly I had never met Sabrina but knew of her work. A very nice tribute! Go Relay for Life!!

  6. Sabrinaa was a high-energy, inspiring doer. RIP. All of my conversations with her were about art – a fine topic, indeed – but I do wish I’d known her better. She had so many good friends – Glyph Graves, for sure. I need to go hug him.

  7. What a wonderful piece on a wonderful lady. 🙂 I did not know Sabrinaa very well and only met her a few times. She did a show at the Gallery of Mystic Dreams which my fiance Xe Namiboo owns. I know Xe misses her very much as do many people. I just wish I could have gotten to know her better. I do remember when her show was at the gallery and I remember telling Xe that I felt like an ant in a world of wonder. Her flower sculptures were so amazing.

  8. I remember you all there. It was very special to see. Sabrinaa spent time doing things that would make me happy.That is a great attribute she had and she truly enjoyed it. I think Ifeel her prescence even more now thru you all.

    take care

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