When I mentioned the Media In Our Image project to German-born artist Irene Belknap, she said that I must take a look at a series of her paintings that she calls “Dressed in Words.” She mentioned being bemused by the profound difference between her perception of people and the stories they would tell about themselves. These portraits interweave text and image in order to create a “simultaneity of meaning,” as she puts it. She explains:
“In my work there can be no final ‘this means that.’ It is my belief that which sustains in painting is the evocative; that which calls to mind both the artist and the viewer. My aim is to evoke a sense of the unknown where final meaning is withheld, thus the mind is incited to allow a journey beyond ourselves toward that which we sense but cannot explain; that which we know but cannot prove.”
South African artist Gabrielle LeRoux combines the convention of portrait painting with visual data descriptors beautifully in her series of 10 “Proudly African and Transgender” portraits. Each piece allows a different story of identity to be told through art and words.
Famed Brazilian Supermodel Lea T has often posed under veils and she has used the power of the veil to both reveal and obscure. In the beginning of her modeling career, she kept her transgender identity a secret. Now that she is out in the open, the veils reveal a lot about her, while also maintaining the desired level of mystery.
Musician Kate Wax and art director Nills Wehrspann use light projection techniques that appear to dematerialize the bodies of the performers on stage. I kept thinking that this might be what a concert by cyborgs would look like on a stage in a low-res virtual world.
If the shoe doesn’t fit, must we change the shoe?
The truth will set you free, but first, it will piss you off.
The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini, a recent exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, was very influential in my thinking about the Media In Our Image project. I was a bit overwhelmed by the first gallery, which was filled with stark side profiles of wealthy men and women. I learned that, in the early stages of secular portraiture, painters were constrained by the belief that strict side profiles were the only way to reveal the true character of the subject. By accurately representing the slope of the forehead, the shape of the nose and the jut of the chin, a painter could communicate the ethical and moral attributes of the sitter. Any deviation from the strictest of profiles was perceived as an attempt to hide all manner of sins.
Of course this restriction eventually disappeared (the Dutch, apparently, would have none of it), but in the age of the “social media profile,” we have an unprecedented opportunity to invent new rules for the way we capture, define, and represent ourselves to the world.
How do you picture yourself? Share your inventions with us!
Once we settled on creating a “veil of words” in order to express a portrait subject’s interests and beliefs, we started looking around for some good examples. It turns out, you can’t do a Google image search that mentions “veils” and “words” without turning up some fascinating portraits of veiled women protesters. This one (above) was particularly striking because the words appear to be written in blood: they say, “Why are my rights half of your rights?”
In the example above, a protester against Egypt’s ruling military council wears a headband that reads “no god except Allah and Prophet Mohammed is a messenger of Allah” in Arabic. (photo credit: Amr Nabil/AP Photo)
This is a terrific piece of graphic design, turning a niqāb into a veil of words about personal opinion. Since we, too, were trying to find a way to express a person’s identity by partially obscuring their physical features with words, this piece really resonated for us. More info »
As we tried to figure out how to create a portrait of a person that expressed their interests and beliefs, we kept returning to examples that included veils. This striking portrait of the actress Gloria Swanson was particularly intriguing: usually the veil is being worn by the subject, but here the camera lens itself is veiled. The result? Swanson appears to be staring through our shroud rather than vice versa.