‘This Is Not a Selfie’ at the MFA features art photographers’ self-portraits

ae Jennifer Moon
Jennifer Moon (American, b. 1973), a conceptual artist, invokes the image of Huey P. Newton in her 2013 self-portrait “You Can Kill My Body, But You Can’t Kill My Soul.”

 

By J.A. Jones, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – The Museum of Fine Art’s new exhibit “This Is Not a Selfie: Photographic Self-Portraits from the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection” is a challenge and reversal to the current cultural phenomenon that has exploded with the advent of social media.

Comprised of actual self-captured images by a range of international photographers whose work has impacted the world of art through the decades, the collection challenges the present fixation with the smartphone and disposable camera’s quick-pic – revealing how artistic flourish deepens and expands the camera’s eye and emotional scape in the hands of the professional.

Malick Sidibe (1936-2016) created the self-portrait “Malick Lui Meme (Malick Himself)”

Malick Sidibe (1936-2016) created the self-portrait “Malick Lui Meme (Malick Himself)”

Photos date as far back to the likes of French photographer Nadar (Gaspard-Felix Tournachon, 1820-1910), whose “Self-Portrait in Indian Costume” reveals the European’s fascination with “dressing up” in the garb of cultures that were both foreign and ripe for exploitation.

African and African-American influences are displayed in a range of images: Mali-born artist Malick Sidibe (1936-2016) created the self-portrait “Malick Lui Meme (Malick Himself)” in 1972, a mere 12 years after Mali’s independence from France.

American photographers Lyle Ashton Harris (American, b. 1965) and Renee Cox (Jamaican, b. 1960) collaborate in the photograph, “The Child” – playing with cultural role assignments, with Cox dressed as the male “father” figure, and Harris dressed as the “mother.”

American photographers Lyle Ashton Harris (American, b. 1965) and Renee Cox (Jamaican, b. 1960) collaborate in the photograph, “The Child”

American photographers Lyle Ashton Harris (American, b. 1965) and Renee Cox (Jamaican, b. 1960) collaborate in the photograph, “The Child”

Jennifer Moon (American, b. 1973), a conceptual artist, invokes the image of Huey P. Newton in her 2013 self-portrait “You Can Kill My Body, But You Can’t Kill My Soul.”

Among the most striking pieces in the collection is Yasumasa Morimura’s (Japanese, b. 1951) giant, ornately decorated, photo-hidden-in-a-painting – featuring the visage of artist Frida Kahlo. Morimura is almost absent from the piece except for his eyes, peering out from the work entitled “An Inner Dialogue with Frida Kahlo (Collar of Thorns).” Morimura based the work on Kahlo’s (1907-1954) painting, “Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird.”

Chino Otsuka’s (b. 1972) works “1976+2005, Kamakura, Japan,” “1984+2005, Richmond Hotel, France” and “1984+2005, London, UK” use flawless digital augmentation to allow the photographer to insert older versions of herself alongside her younger images.

Some reveal bizarre fetishes: Orlan, (French, b. 1947) is famous for documenting her body augmentation experiments. In “Holy Shroud #3” she created her own “Shroud of Turin” (the veil believed to have been covering Jesus’ face in the tomb). The work is described as combining gauze and blood — to create a creepy rendering of the artist’s face.

Other images reveal photographers poking fun at themselves – such as Mehemed Fehmy Agha (Ukrainian, 1896 – 1978), a former art editor at Vogue — whose “Self-Portrait” was of his (presumably) foot, adorned with spectacles and a comical ‘necktie’ and ‘jacket.’

A series of self-portraits by Bruce Nauman (American, b. 1941) depicts him pulling his facial features in bizarre ways; Jonathan Borofsky’s (American, b. 1942) “Self Portrait,” feature his face, neck, and shoulders tattooed with mysterious numbers reveal personal obsessions.

Other fascinating images include:

  • “Photo Transformation 8/19/76” by Lucas Samaras (Greek, b. 1936), who used a dual image of himself combined with whimsical flowers, petals, and paint to create a ghostly mirror image

  • “Untitled,” 1964, Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987) – a young Warhol in a strip of images “Self-Portrait,” 1932, Herbert Bayer (Austrian, 1900 – 1985) created a surreal early “photoshopped” image with his head sitting on a chopped-up mannequin’s body.

  • “Leap into the Void, 1960” by Yves Klein (1928-1962) used a photomontage of two negatives combined to “appear” as if Klein was leaping from a second-floor window

“This Is Not a Selfie” is at the MFA until Nov. 25. Bring your phone or camera to take shots backed up by their selfie walls!

The Museum of Fine Arts is located at 255 Beach Drive N.E. Hours: Monday-Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, 10-5 p.m.; Thursday, 10-8 p.m. and Sunday, noon-5 p.m.

For more information, please call (727) 896.2667 or visit mfastpete.org.

To reach J.A. Jones, email jjones@theweeklychallenger.com.

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