Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

I visited the Surrey Art Gallery today. The current exhibitions there centre around the self. What does it mean to portray yourself in a self-portrait? How do we choose to represent ourselves? What is self? Big questions for a Friday morning.

Artist Holly Armishaw portrayed herself taking her doppelganger (double) for tea. This photograph depicts the multiple identities that comprise each of us. The right figure reflects her mother’s influence on her life (how to be a lady, serving tea, sitting pretty) — and the left figure reflects her father’s influence (working on his motorbike in the garage listening to Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper records).

Mixed Heritage by Holly Armishaw

This next image by Colleen Baran plays with the idea that we can get a cursory yet often accurate glimpse of someone’s identity by the things in one’s purse, in one’s medicine cabinet, the books on one’s shelf, a DVD collection, the art in one’s home. I think this is why I’ve always found it so fascinating to housesit. The things people own tell a lot about who they are, their aesthetic tastes, their loves and fears, the way they spend their time. But we are also more complex than what these objects speak about us. We can’t be reduced to what we own.

Self-Portrait in Open 8 and 9 by Colleen Baran

This next one by Grace Gordon-Collins, I like the description better than the portrait. She’s unstable and evanescent, and it probably reminds me too much of my own in-betweenness.

In Between by Grace Gordon-Collins

Undefined space and time as both prison and prelude to a new reality. Could she have said it any better? If you were submitting a self-portrait in this exhibition, how would you portray yourself? What defines you?

This collage of personal documents and photographs by Al Neil reminds the viewer of the limits of such a question, for we are different people at different times in our lives. Or maybe not different people, but different versions of ourselves. How do you capture all these facets? Do you even try?

Autobio #6 by Al Neil

Under this mask, another mask.

I will not finish taking off all these faces

– Claude Cahun, early 20th century French artist

4 thoughts on “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

  1. I had to do a self-portrait for an art course. I’m not an artist, it was for an elementary teaching course I had to take. I embroidered, because I don’t draw or paint, on white cloth. Hair, eyes and nose, okay. But I did not do a mouth. The idea was that as far as “art” was concerned I could look and think but didn’t really have the tools or knowledge to talk about it. I guess I was feeling insecure about the course. Anyway, no one liked it but me.

    • Well I’m glad you liked it, that’s the most important thing! It sounds like a very clever and symbolic self-portrait to me. Thanks for sharing. Hmm, this is making me want to do the same assignment and see what I would come up with . . .

  2. I have so many sides, all a function of the roles I play, the daughter, the sister, the friend, the teacher, the grown-up, the young kid (my colleagues are a lot older, so I am a kid in comparison), etc. Sometimes it is not even the roles, but my identify is the thing that makes me different in that certain setting. For example, my friend said it really well once, he is a Canadian, born in Canada, but grew up in the states, eventually came back to Canada for university, and is back in the states for more university. In Canada, he is the “American” (knows about the line up of presidents, the unique traits identifying the western states from the eastern, etc); however when he is in the States, he is the Canadian, the one that needs to sign more paper work when applying for employment, the one that get conscripted into the army, etc.


    • This is really fascinating Anna – how your identity is the thing that makes you different. Maybe because it’s the easiest thing to pick up on when you’re mixed in with people who all share a similarity that you don’t. Identity is so fluid, complex, and contradictory – it’s no wonder most of us suffer from identity crises at one point or another in our lives!

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