16 May - 24 Jun 2007
ANNETTE BEZOR | Urban Turbans
Exhibition Text by Chris Reid April 2007
By creating and remodelling diverse images of women, Bezor examines historical and contemporary constructions of gender, ethnicity and sexuality. One of her most important devices is the appropriation and transformation of well-known images from sources as diverse as classical painting, popular media and pornography. By creating new portraits from old images, and using heightened tones and the stylising of features to idealise their beauty, she explores the objectification of women in the cultures from which the images are drawn. For example, the figure on the left in Urban Turbans is drawn from the work of Tamara de Lempicka (1898 – 1980), whose own work glamourised sexuality. The central figure is drawn from the widely-known 1950s prints of paintings of Asian women by Vladimir Tretchikoff (1913 – 2006), and is little changed, emphasising the stylisation characteristic of the original works. The figure on the right is a hybrid figure Bezor has invented. Locating the three contrasting images in the one tableau renders them iconic, and the direct gaze of the contrived figure on the right is haunting. In Stage Whisper, Bezor identifies a subtle but important mannerism found in fashion and glamour photography, where the model glances back over her shoulder at the camera. As the woman turns abruptly to engage us, her eye contact challenges us erotically. Bezor also uses this device in the Mocha Sunset paintings, and additionally uses a bland title and mirroring to examine the de-personalising impact of the repetition of portrait images. Night Crossing, Hot Crossing also plays on the theme of depersonalisation, rendering the same subject in different tones to create different effects. The erotic power of the image is transformed by the change in paint colouring, and yet the model represented is unchanged. These works recall Andy Warhol’s multiple silk-screen prints of celebrities, an idea which Bezor translates into painting to encompass a wider critique of the expression of identity. Primarily, Bezor uses these devices to draw attention to the distinction between the artificial and the natural. These are not in fact mirror images, and there are subtle differences between them. They are also deliberately inaccurate representations of the model, and they emphasise both the mutability of the individual and the inability of any representation to capture the persona accurately and completely. The Mirror Face paintings address human subjectivity. The ‘mirror face’ is the facial expression we adopt when we look into a mirror and which we think represents our true selves; but this face is not the face that others see. There is an implied interchangeability between the flower and the persona — they carry similar pictorial weight and stylisation and perhaps suggest that the destiny of the female face is, like a flower, to delight the viewer. The face one presents to the world is, at least partially, a mask. Implicitly, My Mirror Face is a self-portrait. In Wrong Time, Wrong Place, Bezor continues her exploration of the legacy of mass-produced domestic decorative art, in this case the exotic tropical Eastern beachscape with its romantic but overheated sunset tones. The European figure is out of place in this work and the cultures thus appear incommensurable. She also draws into this work her exploration of cultural expression through dress. In Eighteenth Century Europe, the powdered wig differentiated the nobility and upper classes from the general population and the wig came to symbolise European high culture. Dress styles generally are emblematic of their cultures of origin, and in this exhibition, the wig corresponds to the female variants of the culturally defining turban, subtly questioning the extent and impact of cultural stereotyping. Bezor’s art invites us to project ourselves into the cultural spaces she creates.