“ME: An Exhibition of Contemporary Self-Portraiture” asks 22 contemporary artists to explore who they are and how they present themselves. Curated by Sugarlift and Juxtapoz contributing editor and Colossal contributor Sasha Bogojev, the exhibition presents each artists’ understanding of themselves and of the history of self-portraiture. Cesar Piette’s abstract blue face resembles dripping paint partially masked by glasses, while Prudence Flint portrays a woman napping on a pink bed next to a guitar. Many of the artists created their first self-portraits in years, if not ever, specifically for the show, which includes work from Aleah Chapin, Cesar Piette, and Christian Rex van Minnen, among others.
In a conversation with Colossal, Bogojov answered a few questions about contemporary culture and self-awareness, how they influence self-portraiture, and the ways current conceptions of identity show up in ME.
Colossal: How have perceptions of the self changed since the creation of such a selfie-obsessed culture?
Bogojev: Oh, that is a tough one and I’m certain there are papers if not books written on that subject. But I do feel that a selfie-obsessed culture created more self-awareness on different levels. For this show, in particular, I feel like lots of artists wanted to fight against the popular idea of “self” or what we know now as selfie, by presenting themselves imperfect, flawed, caricatured, even grotesque in some cases.
Colossal: Could you talk a little more about the intersections between psyche, mirror, and others that you see in contemporary self-portraiture?
Bogojev: Modern-day takes are rarely realistic renderings of one’s mirror image and are often including elements that suggest qualities beyond that. Whether playing with light, formatting, color scheme, or simply going away from realism completely, they often focus on the author’s character, emotions, and such. I like to believe that this show encompasses that really well with the variety of approaches and visual languages presented.
Colossal: So many conversations about identity center ideas of multiplicity, of people not having a singular self. How do you see that relating to the face and to self-portraits?
Bogojev: Exactly! I think this is what most artists nowadays are fully aware of and that is why they struggle to find the “right way” to create self-portraits or they create multiple versions of it. Again, I feel it’s the superficiality of selfie-culture that made them extra wary of how they present themselves without jeopardizing their integrity and practice. With their artwork being the most direct and honest way of communicating with the world, it is not easy for an artist to pick one image, or even concept, as a single representation of oneself. I think this is why the artists in ME built their self-portraits by layering different visuals (Van Minnen), assembling a variety of elements (Shiqing), creating an atmosphere they connect to (Flint, Toscani, Chapin), captured an intimate moment that describes them best (Erheriene-Essi, O’Brien).
ME is on view from January 16 to 30 at High Line Nine in New York. If you’re in the city on January 21, stop by for “The Self-Portrait: Antiquity to #Selfie,” a talk by art and culture critic and author Carlo McCormick, historian and Sotheby’s VP of Old Masters Painting Calvine Harvey, and contemporary painter Jenny Morgan.
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Spain-based photographer Fares Micue uses herself as a muse in spare, otherworldly portraits. Mostly set on plain backgrounds—though Micue does occasionally shoot on location—each photograph depicts the artist incorporated with a botanical element. In some works, Micue’s face is obscured in a glass bowl sphere bursting with flowers; in others, blossoms cascade down her shoulders.
“It always starts with an idea in my head and the feeling I want to portray. Most times I create a sketch of the image I want to create together with as many details as I can get like colors, mood, location, clothing, props, etc… as well as a short story about the image,” Micue says. Even when working indoors, the artist uses exclusively natural light, and also utilized Photoshop to edit her final images in a way that matches her inner vision.
The photographer shares with Colossal that she is self-taught and started exploring the medium as a hobby in 2009. Micue grew to love the process of creating and critiquing each image as a conceptual work. In pursuing her work more seriously, the artist explains, she hopes to cultivate a range of emotional responses in viewers similar to how she feels in conceptualizing her photographs.
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Quotidian Objects Enrich Striking Black and White Self-Portraits in a New Monograph by Zanele Muholi
South African photographer and activist Zanele Muholi creates striking self-portraits for their series Somnyama Ngonyama, which means “Hail the Dark Lioness” in Zulu. The black and white images elevate everyday objects like clothespins, sunglasses, and wire sponges into elaborate hair pieces and costumes that speak to radical identity and resistance. The extensive series of portraits has recently been compiled into a monograph by Aperture, which contains a conversation with London-based curator Renée Mussai, in addition to more than twenty contributions from writers, curators, and poets.
Ninety powerful representations of the visual activist occupy the pages of Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness, which acts as both an autobiographical work and a compendium of resistance. In response to the book’s release Muholi states, “I am producing this photographic document to encourage individuals in my community to be brave enough to occupy spaces—brave enough to create without fear of being vilified. . . . To teach people about our history, to rethink what history is all about, to reclaim it for ourselves—to encourage people to use artistic tools such as cameras as weapons to fight back.”
Muholi has documented black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people throughout South Africa for the past decade. They are the cofounder of the Forum for the Empowerment of Women and founder of Inkanyiso, a forum for queer and visual media. Muholi currently lives and makes work in Johannesburg, South Africa, and is an honorary professor at the University of the Arts Bremen, Germany. You can see more of their portraits on Yancy Richardson Gallery’s website.
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Peruvian artist Cecilia Paredes is the subject of her own richly patterned photographs, yet her figure is often difficult to locate at first. For each portrait she hangs boldly printed fabrics as the backdrop, which she then matches either with her painted skin, custom clothing, or both. Her torso, arms, and face fade into the background, as the curvature of her body and brown hair become some of the only indicators of her presence.
“I wrap, cover, or paint my body with the same pattern of the material and re-present myself as part of that landscape,” she explains. “Through this act, I am working on the theme of building my own identification with the entourage or part of the world where I live or where I feel I can call home. My bio has been described as nomadic so maybe this is also a need of addressing the process of constant relocation.”
Paredes was born in Lima, Peru and currently works between Philadelphia, Lima, and Costa Rica. Currently she has a solo exhibition at Museum of Latin America Art (MOLAA) in Los Angeles through December 30, 2018, and will open another solo exhibition at the Museum of the University of Navarra (MUN) in Spain on March 27, 2019. (via LensCulture)
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Malaysian-born artist and model Sheena Liam (previously) creates self-portraiture through dark green thread and embroidery hoops. The hand-sewn images imitate her own subtle gestures from her day-to-day life, focusing on rituals of self care. “In a strange way modeling parallels my art in the sense I often have to use body language as means of expressing a certain sort of mood,” she explains. “It’s no different from my embroideries.”
Long locks flow off the canvas from sewn ponytails and braids, which give the monochromatic work a sense of movement from their static position on the wall. Liam’s first solo exhibition in France, Times New Romance, opens at Item Gallery in Paris on October 19, 2018 and runs through October 27, 2018. You can see more of her works on Instagram.
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Artist Juana Gómez turns her gaze inward in order to understand the larger systems that compose the outside world. She embroiders the bones, muscles, veins, and synapsis that lie below her skin onto self-portraits, tracing her biological structures as a way to translate the similar patterns found in nature and modern civilization.
“There is fundamental law that can be seen in the veins of a leaf, the course of rivers and their tributaries, the circuits of the central nervous system, the currents of the sea, and the routes of traffic on the Internet,” says Gómez in an artist statement. “Deciphering this common language, which connects the micro cosmos with the macro cosmos, the external and the interior world, allows us to distinguish a pattern that influences inert, biological, social and cultural systems.”
Gómez first photographs sections of her body—face, torso, hands, legs, feet—which she then prints onto loose linen or another similar fabric. Next, she embroiders onto her duplicated skin, stitching brightly colored thread over her tattooed body (an element which adds another layer of texture to her personal works). In addition to these embroidered self-portraits, Gómez has also created an in situ thread-based work titled Cultivo. You can see both methods of her practice on her website.
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Rather than considering paint as a liquid medium, San Francisco-based artist Chris Dorosz uses the traditional material as a unit of measure to form anonymous sculptural portraits. At first glance, the three-dimensional paintings read as abstract compilations of shapes, and only once the viewer looks head-on at the portrait does a human figure begin to emerge.
As he writes in his artist statement, Dorosz considers the paint drop to be “a form that takes shape not from a brush or any human-made implement or gesture, but purely from its own viscosity and the air it falls through, as analogous to the building blocks that make up the human body (DNA) or even its mimetic representation (the pixel).”
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Editor's Picks: Photography
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.