Toward a More Radical Selfie

Excerpt from this article:

Maybe selfies are what happen when a society sends a missive without a recipient. Like the interstellar radio broadcast “A Simple Response to an Elemental Message,” which sent human fears about the earth’s environmental destruction out into the universe and toward possible extraterrestrial life, self-portraiture today does not communicate unique truths so much as it reflects collective anxieties. But I don’t mean to bemoan social media (boring, it’s been done, everyone’s worried but no one will change). Really, I want to use that labyrinth to try to find a route back to an entirely different type of self-portraiture, one that offers an alternative (and more positive) interconnection between character, work, and the female subject.

I know such a portrait exists because I’ve seen it. I encountered it in a small gallery at Buckingham Palace, at the Portrait of the Artist exhibition last year. This painting’s texture and dimensionality immediately distinguished it from the rest of the work on display. My instinct was to touch it. What first appeared to be daubs of paint slowly revealed themselves to be stitches. This self-portrait is embroidered—thick, pastel threads so perfectly irregular as to resemble brushstrokes, instantly imprinting the creator’s individuality onto the canvas (or cloth, rather). Those hands, an artisan’s hands, are shown carefully stitching, one red thread looped loosely over the ring finger (married to her work?). What really affected me though, what I found inescapable, was the woman’s expression. She’s smiling, her eyes are bright and calm. She has a charisma that so often resists artistic capture, and her face expresses an internal life as opposed to a superficial character. This is a woman who understood the power of her work and the radical nature of depicting herself doing it. The confidence in her gaze weaves its own kind of spell, creating a sense of the artist regarding herself as she actively constructs her self-image. Enmeshed in that self-image, central to it, is the work. The work of the piece and the work within the piece are indistinguishable.