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Self-fashioning // SHE Photographs

by Brianne Chapelle

I walked to the MBAM from campus to find a piece of myself that is feeling particularly drowned by responsibilities. I walk down the “stairs” (an inside joke for all those who have descended them) and find my way to the SHE Photographs exhibit. The wall text discusses the idea that the photographers and artists are “conveyers of meaning” and “apprehend the world through the lens.” At times there is the aspect of “staging the self.” Finding this interesting, I walked around the rest of the exhibit. 

At the risk of sounding too dramatic, a risk usually worth it, there were a few pieces that catalyzed something in my mind palace. 

Suzy Lake’s A Genuine Simulation of…No. 2 from 1974 stopped me. It is a beautiful work, but what I really liked about it was the medium or the process and what that said, at least to me. Six photographs of a woman are shown in a grid with varying amount of makeup applied like paint over each until the last image is covered in pink looking foundation and blue eye shadow. It’s so interesting because it seems to speak to this process of putting on makeup as a self-fashioning apparatus we employ in our daily lives (if we so choose) and connecting that process with the artistic act of painting.Natural beauty arguments present ideas that I can get behind and I love the sentiment, but at the same time I feel like wearing makeup is part of expressing ourselves if we choose to do it. Fashion too has this ability, and I think it can be political or send messages. 

Janet Eyre’s 2001 Sisters Sarah and Sophie was one too. It’s kind of jarring, I think because of the eyes that stare right back in all their bloodshot glory. The blue that occupies much of the image is a captivating tone. Just mesmerizing. The kind of doppelgänger situation is also interesting and brings to mind the idea of being fragmented. It’s on the same wall as Lake’s work and I feel like there’s a possible connection between feeling fragmented and self-fashioning an identity that pieces the fragments together through beauty and possibly fashion that they both may speak to.

I think the reason that I liked these pieces was due to their media or process, and the themes of fashion and beauty, something I find myself thinking about often. Society tells us how to dress and tells us how to look, whether that message is to harness our natural one or whether it is to enhance it in any way we wish. My roommate is found of saying, “Por qué no los dos?” spanish for why not both? It seems relevant here: why can’t we self-fashion in any way we choose on a day to day basis, tell the story of that day, that moment. That’s what I think the beauty of it all is. I think that is the beauty of these works, that they speak to these ideas. 

This exhibit caused me to think about why I love portraits, especially self-portraits.I love them for the way they are deliberate in their expression of someone’s person in particular moments of their lives. In the most fundamental sense, my love for art and all related things is that it is, at its core, expression. Expression of ideas, of experience, of history, of oneself.   

SHE Photographs is on at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal until February 19, 2017. 

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