Gee, I’m a Tree:
It’s fun to go to the opening of a self-portrait show and compare the artists to the way they use their own images in their work. That was the scene at Leila Heller Gallery in Chelsea this week, where Iké Udé, Shahzia Sikander, Lyle Ashton Harris, Nicky Nodjoumi, Youssef Nabil, and others came to celebrate the inauguration of “The Mask and the Mirror.” The show is the first curatorial effort of artist Shirin Neshat, who recounts in the catalogue how, as an art student in the ’80s, she became obsessed with Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits—how they “pulled the viewer into her private world to witness the beauty and the horror she experienced in her personal life.” While the work Neshat went on to make is less autobiographical than Kahlo’s, the Iranian-born artist has often incorporated her own portrait into fierce images, particularly of the characters who are the warrior Muslim women of Iran’s 1979 revolution.
For “The Mask and the Mirror,” she went all over the map—along with the artists at the opening, it features Marina Abramovic, Cindy Sherman, Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe, and various others. Some artists, Neshat notes, use the self-portrait as a way to explore private obsessions. For others, particularly Iranians Ramin Haerizadeh, Shahram Karimi, and Bahar Sabzevari, it is a vehicle to comment on larger issues about society, politics, culture.
Or, sometimes, all of the above. Self Portrait with Roots, Los Angeles, is 2008, a hand-colored gelatin silver print by Nabil, an Egyptian-born artist who lives in New York. He depicts himself nestled beneath one of those giant California trees in a crazy riot of roots that have pushed up from the earth and overrun the grass, a cradle at once nurturing and sinister. The suggestive metaphor makes for a haunting image of man’s embrace of nature—or is it nature’s embrace of man?
Courtesy the artist and Yossi Milo Gallery.