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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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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