Now through December 11th, a provocative exhibit is on display at UNC-G’s Weatherspoon Art Museum. Persona: A Body in parts confronts societal concepts of body image and identity, challenging viewers to perceive the body and the identities it may present as separate entities from the people inhabiting them. As curator Xandra Eden articulates, “Persona: A Body in Parts examines the human body as a plastic, surrogate form from which multiple and complex identities can be defined.” Featuring the art of six different contemporary artists, this body of work is comprised of various styles, mediums and techniques, all of which effectively explore the relationship between body, identity, and self.
Carter, born 1970, uses fragmentation and simplification to explore the concept of unfixed identity, or considering the outward representation of the self to be a superficial costume. His series of small collages convey human images in seemingly unrelated yet unified pieces, suggesting that external appearances can be both misleading and irrelevant. His strikingly ascetic crystal busts cause viewers to question how identity is represented when the body is stripped to pure simplicity.
Nick Cave (b. 1959) takes a nearly opposite approach to examining body and identity. His extravagant body suits, comprised of found objects, beads, gaudy fabrics, and sometimes sequins, use overstatement to conceal the body and its correlating stereotypes. As the Artist describes, “When I was inside a suit, you couldn’t tell if I was a woman or a man; if I was black, red, green or orange; from Haiti or South Africa.” By completely and dazzlingly masking the body, Cave starts a dialogue about what human identity is when the body is not a human image.
Kate Gilmore (b. 1975) utilizes the dimension of time in Main Squeeze, a video piece in which the artist navigates a tunnel that shrinks in diameter as she crawls through it. Her increasingly arduous mental and physical struggles provide insights to relationship between the body and the self; specifically, how this relationship changes in threatening situations.
Nikki Lee’s (b. 1970) photography series Parts consists of staged self-portraits in which the artist’s style is dependent on her male counterpart, yet only a small portion of his body is in any of the frames. Because Lee looks so strikingly different in each image, the series represents how our identities and presentations change within different contexts, but when the said contexts are removed, our very selves seem to change.
The exhibit also comprises photographs by Gillian Wearing and Barbara Probst, both of whom do staged portraits on a large scale. In Album, Wearing photographed herself in the semblance of several of her family members, examining how family shapes an individual’s identity. Probst’s work in this show focuses on the relationship of the viewer and the viewed. Her multiple portrait of three women turning towards three different cameras does not have a central focus. Two or more models and even the cameras themselves are visible in many of the frames, revealing how individuals’ identities interrelate, even when these individuals are in no way communicating.
Funds for Persona were provided by The North Carolina Arts Council and Jaguar Land rover of Greensboro. There is no charge for admission or parking at the Weatherspoon, so check out this exhibit soon.