How can photography be an instrument of re-staging? This is one of the questions tackled by the exhibition Encore: Reenactment in Contemporary Photography at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, on view until June 9.
The exhibition showcases the work of seven photographers: Eileen Cowin, Christina Fernandez, Samuel Fosso, Yausama Morimura, Yinka Shonibare CBE, Gillian Wearing, and Qiu Zhije. These artists come from six different countries and all apply the idea of reenactment to one of the three major themes of the exhibition: personal history, political history, and art history.
At first sight, the images lend themselves to confusion: they are at once strange and familiar. Every photograph needs to be closely examined, since the images were produced by artists who decided to revisit a particular period in History. In his monumental portraits, Samuel Fosso celebrates major figures of the African diaspora, and pays them tribute by transforming popular images into veritable tableaus. As a result, familiar images are placed on a pedestal and re-inscribed in History.
While most images represent complex mises-en-scène, their subtext also carries significant symbolic value. Through visual reenactment of a work by Goya, Yinka Shonibare transposes an eighteenth-century engraving into a contemporary reflection on questions of race, class, and identity building. In her self-portraits, Christina Fernandez puts herself in the role of her grandmother who immigrated, alone with her children, from Mexico to southern California in the early twentieth century. Through this reconstruction, created on the basis of numerous stories, Fernandez attempts to break stereotypes. Her images evince visual reenactment as a form of appropriation of History by those who have been barred from History.
The exhibition highlights the power of images in collective imagination and, consequently, the importance of the appropriation of heritage as an instrument of reflection on identity. These visual reenactments explore universal themes and personal emotions, navigating between the private and the public. The work of these seven photographers not only offers a fresh look at the past, but above all a vision of the future.
By Claire Debost
Encore: Reenactment in Contemporary Photography
From March 12 to June 9, 2019
Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90049, United States