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Encore: Reenactment in Contemporary Photography

Encore: Reenactment in Contemporary Photography

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.

Yasumasa Morimura, Daughter of Art History, Theater A, 1989, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles © Yasumasa Morimura


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.

Samuel Fosso, Untitled (Muhammad Ali), 2008, Isabel Stainow Wilcox © Samuel Fosso, courtesy Jean Marc Patras, Paris

Visual appropriations

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.

Christina Fernandez, 1919, Portland, Colorado, 1995–96, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles © Christina Fernandez

Contemporary 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.

 Eileen Cowin, Marriage of the Arnolfini, 1985, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of The Artist © Eileen Cowin
Yinka Shonibare CBE, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (Asia), 2008, Courtesy of Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Museum Purchase, the Austin Fund in Honor of Wright S. Ludington © Yinka Shonibare CBE. Courtesy James Cohan, New York
 Gillian Wearing, Self Portrait as my Sister Jane Wearing, 2003, Heather Podesta Collection © Gillian Wearing, Courtesy Maureen Paley, London; Regen Projects, Los Angeles; and Tanya Bonakdar, New York
Qiu Zhijie, Fine, 1996–97, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Anonymous Gift © Qiu Zhijie

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

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