We are living through an age where the camera never stops snapping. Social media has given everyone the right to call themselves a critic or label themselves as a photographer yet many of these self-proclaimed amateur photographers are turning the camera on themselves which in turn as created the term ‘selfie’. Gaining entry into the Oxford dictionary at the close of 2013, the act of taking a selfie indicated the level of narcissism plaguing a generation as well as the new form of a self-portrait. Referencing the peacock culture defining today, former model turned painter, Anh Duong uses the canvas to create a true selfie using traditional art forms.
Opening the intimate exhibition is a plate entitled ‘Verging on Existence’. Duong stands next to her husband adorned in what appears to be Dolce & Gabbana but completely aloof whilst her husband confidently engages with the spectators who avidly photograph them for the masses to latter digest. Standing on his arm, she stands as an object, silent; mute a vast contrast to her husband. I’m sure the tabloids later described them as the happy couple but her absences ironically transforms into an alluring presence.
Following on is a selfie whereby she stands in front of a mirror embraced by a bear. The mirror isn’t featured in the plate and I couldn’t help but speculate that I, the spectator was the mirror that she was looking into; what’s more I began to wonder whether I was looking at my own reflection. As she stands in her lingerie her choice of clothing indicates a sense of entrapment. As a woman there is sometimes nothing more liberating that unhooking your bra but this sense of a freedom within Duong is locked down due to her marriage, emotions and womanhood. In reference to the bear, it’s initial placement reads slightly random but it fills a void of loneliness or as the exhibition essayist Phoebe Hoban suggests, it ‘calls on a lost childhood’. As she places on her make-up the latter comes into greater context as we begin to see the performance of her femininity that she later attempts to discard through smears and tears.
The mixture of hard and soft strokes moving throughout each plate allows the eye to travel through each portrait whilst weaving you through the complexity of her psychology. It is important to note the context of which these self portraits arose. Following the divorce of her husband, Duong underwent physiotherapy thus the book ‘How to make love to the same person for the rest of your life and still love them’ demonstrates a personal critique of her role as a wife. However, the black veiled portrait in the closing plate ‘La Maman et la Putain’ alludes to her embodying the 16th century definition of a fallen woman.
Inbetween Duong’s selfie’s are moments of her material goods. A cacophony of labels fill the plates causing the viewer to at time become lost (and in my case, envious) of her material wealth that I question what is she complaining about? She has it all, doesn’t she? But as I returned to her uncomfortable gaze I realised that she had nothing. Chanel bags and red soled shoes clearly don’t maketh the woman but instead alienate our emotional intelligence and expose our consumer desires.
The intensity of her glare almost haunts you as you walk past each plate but this is past the plates yet despite feeling uncomfortable at times, you quickly discover that this is Duong way of communicating with you. She is asking you, the viewer to look at her as more than a cross cultural object but as an individual wrapped in human emotions. A red thread runs through each plate, whether it is in the form of a lipstick or a nail polish it bleeds through the canvas where a tear failed to fall.
As both a model and popular cultural figure, Anh Duong is exposed to the masses without ever holding a voice. But with each stroke of a brush she continues this tradition of over-sharing in order to get us to question how well we know the people we insist on consuming. Before there was Instagram and Kim Kardashian, there was Nan Goldin who showed us everything from wild nights out to a bruised face following an argument with her then partner. The over-exposure of the widely celebrate never asks us to question how they are as we assume we know through their regular updates. Here, Duong offers a captivating alternative of the child of social media, the selfie by creating a rich dialogue often lost in the internet sensation. But who is Anh Duong? A fallen woman, a rich bitch and a model. Well, no. From ‘The True Selfie’ she is a painter but beyond that a woman documenting true tales of a divorce.