In the attempt to define ourselves, we also restrict ourselves.
Socially constructed concepts of gender and sex are often inextricably linked to self-identity, but true self-discovery shouldn’t be bound by meaningless dichotomies.
Ipseity, the latest installation at Union Gallery, analyzes the relationship between gender, sex and identity; even more so, however, it attempts to portray the struggle to separate identity from gender and sex. It’s a battle between the self and society, characterized by anxiety, alienation and confusion.
The goal is self-regeneration, but the road isn’t easy.
Two life-sized paintings, each depicting a male and female, dominate the foreground of the gallery. The subjects of both works, titled “Untitled” and created by Joanna Bo Han Shi, BFA ’14, mirror each other in stance.
Both paintings can be interpreted to represent gender archetypes. In a holistic view, they can also be seen to represent the initial step to self-identification: a viewer walks in and is forced to digest both subjects, male and female, in the same way a child first perceives gender — traditionally through the mother and father.
Indeed, concepts of dominance and submission characterize the piece. The female subject’s passivity is highlighted mainly through her dress and the soft, watery accents that flush behind her. The dragon painted on the nude male denotes a primal aggression reinforced by a near-cold blackness surrounding his figure. Both subjects display a look of indignation.
It’s a clear dichotomy echoed and dissected in the surrounding works.
On the left side of the gallery, Anna Speyer, BFA ’14, presents “Anna Libre Rides Again”. Consisting of three separate works, each painting features the same androgynous figure hidden beneath a red, white and blue wrestling mask, featuring an elaborate crucifix on top.
The first subject looks downward; the left eye gazes forward, as if to provoke confrontation. The right eye is purposefully hidden in shadow, similarly featured in the ensuing two pieces.
Identity, as interpreted to be determined by a gendered dichotomy, is literally worn as a mask external of the androgynous subject. Regardless, the hidden left eye suggests this identity fails to fully capture the true identity of the subject.
Dichotomy becomes a hyper-focus of the work: the dominant red and white colours of the mask, the eyes, one of which is open and expressive and the other hidden, seems to further accentuate a gendered system of self-identification. The evocative expression of the subject’s right eye, in all three pieces, seems to suggest the system as a source of inexpressible pain and confusion.
Speyer’s collective works are the most evocative of the installation. Nevertheless, Sylvia Lesniewski’s lithograph pieces provide an interesting layer to the nature of gender and identity.
The works, which were created using copper etchings and lithographs, further develops gender as a multi-faceted concept.
In one piece, Lesniewski, BFA ’14, uses mythological symbols of femininity and reproduction, like flowers, and portrays them alongside nymphs. The form of the work itself suggests these concepts are more complicated than they appear – their natures are the result of a deeply systemic social problem.
Ipseity runs in the Main Space at Union Gallery until Mar. 7.
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