The Weeks Gallery is offering a new exhibition, “Reflections on Identity,” showcasing artworks from photographers of color: Aitina Fareed-Cooke of Get Fokus’d Productions in Buffalo, Tau Battice of Harlem, Nicole Washington of New York City, and Antonio Pulgarin of Brooklyn. Giving us insight on their own views of beauty and how society interprets it, the artists challenge stereotypes and share their own stories. The models shown in the photographs have been chosen because, even though they have struggled with their own identities in the past, they are proud to stand before everyone to present themselves as they truly are. Some of the works use collage and words to share ideas about self image and identity. These artists show the ways that inner and outer beauty shine.
Nicole Washington and Antonio Pulgarin use portraiture to make interpretative abstractions about gender and sexuality. Pulgarin manipulates his own old family photographs, using images of his biological father, who was incarcerated, and his uncle, who died before he was born. One photo in particular was a photo of his uncle and his father. In the center of it, he had put a ripped military photo, demonstrating how “in charge” and “macho” they are. He uses manipulations of his family photographs to show his role models as super macho and to consider the realization that he is gay. Pulgarin questions society’s view on masculinity, while Washington asks her viewers to look beyond simplistic ideals about women’s beauty.
Washington uses words and photographs to create a broader interpretation of women’s identity. Washington was influenced by female hip-hop artists from the 1990s. She uses women who are posed like hip-hop artists and adds a flare using outspoken words and tries to show women’s pride and originality. She writes a bubble of words around the head of two ladies in one image, that reveals their pride and to show the bond between them because, after all, they consider each other “…blood and it don’t come no thicker.” This made me think, what if we all walked around with word bubbles of our thoughts, each of us would have our own unique words as a halo around our heads. “How would my portrait be shown if Washington photographed me?” If I was in front of her camera, I would pose with my chin up and my arms folded, because growing up, I was always taught to carry my body with pride and dignity. My stance would show just that. The beauty of this exhibition is that we all interpret identity differently. But it’s up to you to bring your own definition to the table in how you present yourself and think.
Fareed-Cooke and Battice make more traditional straight portraits. Their work shows people projecting confidence, people who have overcome difficulties in everyday life or are showing pride in their racial lineage. Battice’s portrait of Tatiane shows a woman from Sao Paulo, Brazil wearing an outfit that does not hide her body, even though the ideal projected in the media suggest she should consider covering up. Supermodels and celebrities are styled to have thin bodies and their faces are caked with makeup. Instead, Tatiane poses in a way that she feels most comfortable with herself, for example, by not hiding her stretch marks. She disregards the ideal promoted in fashion magazines and presents herself with the energy she wishes to portray.
In the series “Everyday Warriors,” Fareed-Cooke captures the story of people who have had a big impact on her life. One portrait shows her adoptive mother, Lateyfah, as a strong, independent, fearless woman. The artist indicates in a poem and short documentary video that for Lateyfah confidence was very hard won. For years, her father and her ex-husband told her that she couldn’t achieve anything and that she was not capable of having a good life. Nevertheless, after suffering from the verbal abuse from her father and ex-husband, she managed to find strength and enough confidence to make it on her own. Lateyfah is the artist’s mother–she fostered 30 children in her life–and she is shown here with the barriers lifted, beaming with confidence.
As a student involved in the arts and as someone who holds a passion for photography, I look at the images on view in the gallery and can’t help but wonder about my own future and my identity. Where do I see myself in the years to come? When I’m out shooting portraits using my own style, I aim to put the needs of the person in front of me first. I want to make my subjects realize how beautiful they are in a way they can appreciate. Being a photographer is eye opening, and for me, it’s a way to really get to know another person. Putting someone in front of the camera automatically makes them vulnerable, but it can help them to know who they are and to show them their beauty. Like everyone, I think a lot about my own identity. This exhibition pointed out to me that I have a few things I still needed to uncover and perhaps photography will help me do that.
The exhibit will be up and running until March 27th. Come discover what identity means to you.
About this post’s author:
My name is Ashlan Davis and I’m a Media Arts major. I am also a photographer (although these photos are not mine). In the future, I would like to keep pursuing my dream as a photographer.