An All-Female Exhibit Makes a Case for Self-Portraits Over Selfies
We live in an age where everyone is a self-promoter and self-proclaimed curator. With one click, just about anyone can self-aggrandize to no end, making the role of curators, and sometimes even critics, increasingly obsolete. And the negative impact this has had on the art world is undeniable; without anyone policing what is and what isn’t considered “art,” for instance, Kim Kardashian is given full authority to publish Selfish, an entire volume of selfies, and label it as a work of art. Ironically, the same artistic practice that Kim capitalized on with Selfish—that is, the self-portrait—has, historically, never been used as a means of garnering attention. On the contrary, the self-portrait—in the true meaning of the word—demands thoughtful technique and is typically rife with profound messages that go far beyond the artist’s actual face. And at the opening of SELF REFLECTION last night at The Untitled Space, the lost art of genuine self-portraiture was revived by 21 prolific female artists.
Curated by Indira Cesarine and Coco Dolle, both of whom also have works on display, SELF REFLECTION reexamines the self, and how it’s used as the subject. “The selfie has taken a lot of dominant positions with regards to self-portraiture in the past few years,” said Cesarine, whose featured images experiment with shadows in the loveliest of ways. “I felt it was really important to revert back to some of the original ethos of self-portraiture, which is making a cultural statement and working with yourself; it’s a vehicle of transformation.”
And it’s this precise aspect of self-portraiture that each of the featured (and if we’re being honest, badass) artists played with and attempted to reinterpret in the works. Most did so by harnessing motifs that were once (and maybe still are) deemed taboo—think homosexuality, body image, self-love, sexting, religion, and naturally, the feminine perspective. Take Sophia Wallace, whose partner appears in the same frame as her self-portrait photograph. “It is about me showing my gaze upon my lover because I love butch women, [and they’re] almost never shown as gorgeous or desirable,” Wallace told us last night. “But to me, they’re like Michelangelo’s ‘David.’”
Equally as refreshing is the range of mediums included in the exhibit. Upon entering the gallery, guests are greeted by artist Erin M. Riley’s tapestry, which features her partially nude, tattooed body, and is a rather impressive feat of craftsmanship, to put it mildly. Also on display are Rebecca Dayan’s striking watercolor paintings and Andrea Mary Marshall‘s slightly mangled self-portrait; the artist re-imagined herself in a black and white photograph as an armless figure reminiscent of a Greek sculpture. As for ANGE, one of the three members of threeASFOUR, she quite literally “[steps] into different characters to tell a story” in her images. “It’s never just, ‘Oh, it’s a selfie.’ It always goes a little bit deeper to me.”
Yet what unites all of these vastly different iterations of self-portraiture is that they all demand consideration far deeper than the selfie. Sure, the artist doubles as the subject, but the real focal point of each work is the reaction it provokes and the process that went into it. “I believe that most of the artists here are trying to find something within themselves more [so] than just be portrayed,” said Marie Tomanova, another featured artist and a dear friend of Milk. “It’s a lot about the journey from inside to outside. I think that’s what connects most of us.”
SELF REFLECTION will be on display until October 8th. Check it out and see for yourself what it means for women to take the reigns both as artist and subject—“not because we’re crazy,” as Sophia Wallace put it, “but because we’re infinite like the universe.”
Images via The Untitled Space.
Stay tuned to Milk for more women worth celebrating.