Surrounded by monarchs or a blanket of blue leaves, Fares Micue (previously) captures vividly composed self-portraits. The Spain-based photographer conceals her face and instead focuses on the organic elements surrounding her torso. Whether a series of origami birds or yellow and red twigs resembling flames, the natural additions merge seamlessly with Micue, who bends and contorts her figure to follow the shapely forms of the arranged objects.
In a note to Colossal, the photographer said she’s been more inclined to create since the onset of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, considering her work an invitation into self-reflection. “I am a firm believer that how we think and feel about life is how we will perceive reality. We must train our brain to always search for the bright side and find hope among the desolation,” she says. While people may not have control over global crises, they are not without agency. “I want them to feel powerful and (acknowledge) the power they have over their life experience and how to use that experience to grow and learn,” she writes.
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The posed women in Hanna Lee Joshi’s latest series are comprised of vivid gradients: their chests are cobalt, shoulders rose, and palms lime. Created with gouache and colored pencil, the bright hues stray from flesh tones in favor of what Joshi terms “a more otherworldly aspect in my women. Reclaiming the goddess within and exploring the concept of embodying an ephemeral spirit in form,” she says. By rendering their enlarged, curved torsos and limbs in bold shades, Joshi subverts the tradition of the nude figure.
The Korean-Canadian artist, who’s based in Vancouver and recently was part of the group show “Somebody” at Hashimoto Contemporary, is concerned with how idiosyncratic experiences transcend the personal, which is why the subjects are all anonymous. Each work is, in part, a self-portrait that encompasses the physical, mental, and spiritual.
It is my way of coming to terms with being ok with taking up space; in society, in my day to day life. My pieces range from exploring a feeling of being contained within social constraints or self-created limitations to depicting the ceaseless chase for freedom. For me, it is a therapeutic reclaiming of how female bodies are depicted, little by little dismantling any internalized misogyny or any notion of how a woman should be or behave. It is a constant process where I am attempting to redefine how I see myself.
The unclothed figures also share messages with the positions of their elongated fingers and hands. Joshi depicts them with yogic mudras to embody “the beautifully poetic gestures that are so loaded with powerful symbolism,” she says.
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Channeling M.C. Escher and the Droste effect, more broadly, a Chicago-based artist has been painting portraits of himself painting portraits of himself. Seamus Wray, who’s appeared in a similar project shared on Colossal, began with a single representation (shown above) and mirrored his pose in a photograph of the work. He then repeated that process five times, which resulted in a recursive, mixed-media series that changes slightly with each iteration—two cats make an appearance in the final portraits.
Wray hopes the potentially infinite project begs the questions, “What comes next? Another painting. Are we all just living in a painting? What if this is a painting, within a painting?… I have painted hundreds of self-portraits over the years, and this seemed to be a natural progression from those, as I seem to be going mad painting myself, painting myself,” he tells Colossal.
Much of Wray’s work is centered on internet culture and media, and he frequently paints bright, saturated depictions of memes and iconic characters from various television shows and movies, many of which he shares on Instagram. The artist also sells prints and other goods with his work on Threadless. (via Kottke)
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Since being quarantined inside her home in Buenos Aires, Lucía Morón has struggled with insomnia. “I have not been sleeping well and there are even days when I cannot seem to find the energy to get out of bed,” she says. As a way to manage her difficult moments, Morón has been documenting her uneasiness. “Photographing helps me to externalize and exorcise my inner fears, nightmares, and anxieties,” she says. “It has become a way of escape in which to express myself during (these) hard and lonely times.”
Morón’s joined more than 400 other womxn with similar practices on a collaborative project that’s helping to capture the mundane, monotonous, and worrisome moments in their lives. Organized by photographers Charlotte Schmitz and Hannah Yoon, The Journal is an extension of Women Photograph, which is an initiative led by Daniella Zalcman to elevate visual journalists who identify as non-binary or women.
While many photographs during the last few weeks have focused on hospitals, essential supplies, and frontline workers, The Journal retreats from the traumatic coverage in favor of intimacy. “Our collective photo project brings nuance to the way the current pandemic is being covered as we turn the camera on ourselves, our families, and the private space,” organizers said. It encompasses work from womxn in more than 80 countries and ensures that marginalized voices have a platform as freelance and media budgets are slashed globally.
Morón’s image (shown below) is black and white and depicts a single arm and leg at the left edge of the frame. It corresponds to her feelings of being “‘submerged’ in bed. As if I was trapped or being ‘eaten’ by my own bed,” she says. The puffy sheets resemble a dreamy, floating cloud, linking the image more directly to her insomnia.
While Morón has pivoted inward as a way to cope with her private emotions and feelings, though, other participants describe an experience that centers on their subject matter. For photojournalist Nyimas Laula, turning the camera to herself poses many difficulties because she typically focuses on others’ stories, not her own.
As a photojournalist, the biggest part of my job is listening to people that I’ll be photographing. My work has always been speaking about others, whether it’s addressing issues that I deeply care about or extension of voices from people that yet to be heard. In this isolation, I’m pushed to point the camera to myself, no one to ask, no one to speak to, other than myself. I constrain myself to this voluntary isolation out of responsibility to help contain the spread of the virus. I find myself deeply disoriented by that.
Now confined to her home in Indonesia, Laula has been capturing her surroundings and otherwise private life. She talks about an inner impulse she feels guiding her. “I’ve been photographing things around me, out of intuition, without any particular reason or stories. As if I’m trying to describe the complexity of feelings that I experience during isolation,” she says. “This time, I’m listening to myself, rediscovering myself. It might tell something about myself that I didn’t know before.”
Each week, The Journal’s curators announce a theme like nature, connection, or self-portrait that 8-10 participants from different countries work on together. Some shoot the images, while others provide creative guidance or edit. “As these relationships form, we can see important visual stories emerging, bringing representation to women and their stories from all over the world,” organizers said. Photographers are separated into intentionally diverse groups to ensure a variety of perspectives.
As the project continues, Morón hopes to direct conversations around the ongoing pandemic to new spaces. “We can find a certain relief from this difficult situation by changing its images. It’s like a trap. I think that many people will feel identified with our stories of quarantine,” she writes.
To see the growing collection of global dispatches, follow The Journal on Instagram.
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Covered in full-face masks of fringe and knotted details, threadstories (previously) explores the tension between contemporary portrayals of public and private life. The Irish artist poses in front of gray backdrops for her self-portraits that obscure her face and only sometimes reveal a set of eyes or a mouth through the crocheted exterior.
threadstories tells Colossal that the process for creating each piece is similar. She begins by crocheting the balaclava—sometimes adding space for further detail like pointed ears or a hand-drawn face—before crafting various tufts and dense patches. “The yarns I use when tufting will create an endless array of outcomes from the same technique,” she writes. “The choice of yarn can mean the difference between a mask with a lot of movement or a mask with a strong form that can be brushed and manipulated to hold numerous forms.”
Once she’s photographed the finished project, threadstories deconstructs the pieces to transform them into a new extravagant work. “Generally speaking, I am working intuitively, no design or drawings in advance. I am thinking with my hands,” she says. “For me, it is the photograph or mask on film that is the artwork, not the physical mask. I don’t create pieces like a designer might. The masks are always in a state of flux.”
Each fiber-based creations serves as a visual representation of how people obscure their lives, both intentionally and not, for public consumption. “The masks are sometimes monstrous, other times farcical façades that poke at the performative nature social media cultivates and celebrates,” she writes. Each caption helps build a narrative.
threadstories is questioning how the erosion of personal privacy in the digital age shapes how we view and portray ourselves online. The masks deny the viewer the full story of who the sitter is, echoing the curated or false personas we view online daily. My masks are photographed against a sanitised white square. I know there is often chaos, mess and noise just beyond the margins of that photograph, but the messiness of life doesn’t make the edit for social media.
Find more of the artist’s work that intersects art and cultural commentary on Instagram.
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“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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