Felipe Cama, "News from nowhere (made in China)".

Why does a person portray himself nowadays? I don't talk about Selfie, this plague that we are all subject to look at (and produce, many times), but to the supposedly artistic self-portrait and presumably the result of a need to show oneself to the world as an autonomous subject.

Is it possible that this type of self-portrait is still viable, after the productions of Anna Bella Geiger, commented on in the last article published here[1]? After all, even in the 1970s, she used her own image to discuss the position of women (white, Latin American and artist) in the midst of Brazilian civil-military dictatorship. On the other hand, Cindy Sherman, an American artist, in that same decade also presented herself unfolded in countless female stereotypes created by American cinema.

Anna Bella, in Brazil and Cindy Sherman, in the United States, however, were not alone in this process of resignifying the self-portrait. Concurrent with both, other professionals developed works using the image itself, no longer exploring the old paradigms of conventional self-portrait (when the artist strips himself to the world, literally or metaphorically), as a unique and self-sufficient subjectivity.

In the Brazilian scene, during that same decade, more artists also dedicated themselves to productions in which the image itself was not used to explore an uncontaminated subjectivity (as if that were possible), but as a warning about the certainty that the self is constituted. struggling against external factors, against pre-established norms by the family, society, tradition, the cultural industry, etc. The works of Lenora de Barros, for example, emerge more or less during that period and, until today, the artist makes use of her own image to produce works in which her body always appears as an instrument of struggle against the precession of the clichés that involve us all.

In order not to leave the impression that the use of their own image as a critical tool has been a strategy used exclusively by women, it is worth recalling the work of some men who also used the image of their own body to produce works with a clear address: For a young man with a bright future (1973/74), by Carlos Zilio (MAC-USP collection) – a suitcase with nails and photos in postcard format with the artist portrayed as a young executive with a “bright future” –; the album What the series is about?, from 1975, in which Gabriel Borba included a photo in which he appears as if he were being tortured (MAC-USP collection). In the middle of the same decade, Gastão de Magalhães, in turn, merged his own image with iconic photos of Brasília, establishing an unusual relationship between the “I”, the state and religion (MAM-SP collection). At the end of that decade and the beginning of the next, it was impossible not to register the works of Mario Ishikawa, in xerox, in which parts of his body were represented as symbols of impotence in the face of the repressive state of the time.

The 1990s are also full of works conceived to discuss subjectivity as an effect, not as a singularity without conflict, but as a struggle/social and political construction. In 1994, at the show contaminated photograph, with my curatorship (Centro Cultural São Paulo), I brought together works that dealt with this issue, from those by the “pioneers”, Militão Azevedo and Valério Vieira, to the then new artists Rubens Mano, Nazareth Pacheco and Rosana Paulino, passing through Geraldo de Barros (with self-portraits produced from Hollywood imagery clichés), Anna Bella Geiger (always!), Iole de Freitas, among others and others.

The photographic close-ups on circular supports were so close to Rubens Mano's face that they were incapable of describing his physical characteristics, emphasizing the strange atmosphere of the artist's installation in that show. In the archive presented by Nazareth Pacheco in small framed collages (1993/94, MAM-SP collection) –, in turn, the attempt to adapt the artist’s body – from baby to adulthood – to “ideal” paradigms was recorded. of the woman's body, socially constructed. Rosana Paulino, on the other hand, presented there memory wall (1994, Pinacoteca de São Paulo collection), a special self-portrait, since her identity as a black woman was not based on indices of her material body, but on those of her ancestry and close relatives. A self-portrait that speaks of itself, without actually showing itself.

Rochelle Costi's work, which also appeared in “The Contaminated Photography”, also reflected on the complexity of the subject. In 50 hours: Stolen self portrait (1992/93, MAM-SP collection), the artist appropriated photographs of paintings produced by several art students, using herself as a model. By contrasting these photos with those that showed her posing, Rochelle disorganized any possibility of maintaining the traditional concept of self-portrait as a beacon for the analysis of 50 hours. Still about the exhibition, it would be worth remembering the copies of polaroid enlarged, presented by Márcia Xavier. In them, the artist transformed the act of photographing herself into a mechanical action, recording anonymous parts of her own body (legs, neck, etc.). Marcia had these “patchwork of oneself or any other” in a grid structure, sending the visitor to a constructive background order that undermined any possibility of enjoying those images as carriers only of an expression of the artist’s “I”.


Gustavo Rezende produced two works that problematized the artist's “I”, when constructed from different clichés. The first, Portrait of the artist as a young man (1999), a small backlight which, lit, showed his portrait wearing a blue cap. In addition to the reference to James Joyce's book in the title, the play adjusted Gustavo's self-image to the typology of portraits and self-portraits, typical of the renaissance. He thus adapted to the stereotypes created by the history of images, paying attention to the fact that being an artist was also molding himself to socially accepted images to describe him. Two years later, with Hero, Gustavo will return to self-representation (which, later, will take other directions along his path), molding himself no longer as a resolute young artist of the first renaissance, but associating the figure of the artist with that of the athlete – one of the main types of celebrities in the nowadays.

Albano Afonso is another artist who has linked his own image to those of self-portraits sanctioned by art history. He produced several works within this bias, among them, Self-portrait with modern Latin Americans and Europeans (2005/2010 MAC-USP). The work consists of two sets: a series of self-portraits by renowned artists, juxtaposed with self-portraits by Albano. The latter, in turn, are “blinded” by the light of the flash, preventing its full identification. Also mounted in the form of a grid, Self-portrait with moderns demonstrates two impossibilities: that of, nowadays, the self-portrait can constitute itself alien to the clichés of the history of images and, as a corollary, the artist's difficulty, today, to be able to identify with this same series of clichés.

Sofia Borges, at the beginning of her career, also used her own image to think, not about herself or her intimacy, but photography itself in its relations with painting and cinema. In some of those photos, her body seems to serve only as a preferential modulator for the exploration of color, light, and the subtle gradations of chiaroscuro, elements that, in the sequence, would be scrutinized by her without the instrumentalization of the image itself.

In turn, in the photographs in which he uses his own body, Nino Cais inquires about the image, without emphasizing any need to claim the substrate of an uncontaminated self. On the contrary, in the photos, his body becomes one more device among others to help the artist's main concern, which is to discuss the limits and possibilities of representing the world today.

Felipe Cama, in turn, with News from Nowhere (Made in China), 2010 (MAC-USP collection), should also be listed as a professional who brought other issues to the contemporary self-portrait. During a certain period Cama printed from the computer selfies produced by tourists from different parts of the world, in Tiananmen Square, in Beijing. Afterwards, he traveled to that city and had his portrait in the same place. In Brazil, in possession of all those selfies (including yours), Felipe sent the photos to a Chinese manufacture to have the images reproduced in hyper-realistic paintings. When these arrived, the artist juxtaposed them forming a grid of selfies, among which the public can find the one made by themselves. Where is Philip; where is Wally? Where are we, in these days of so many selfies, in which individuality seems forever lost in the face of the incessant repetition of the same procedure, the same representation scheme?

Sidney Amaral, in turn, in his short career, instilled a tragic dimension in the shattering of the traditional concept of self-portrait in the country by portraying himself in a kind of photo/pictorial performance (Immolation e Studies for Immolation I, II, III e IV, Pinacoteca de São Paulo collection). In the series, in which the artist appears on the verge of committing suicide, the image of his body operates as an index and symbol of an issue that goes beyond him: overall, Sidney is not about himself, but about all the men of his ethnicity who revolt. against the situation of their peers in a society as unjust as the Brazilian[2].


The list above could be substantially expanded, adding works by other Brazilian artists who, from the 1970s to the present, undermine the traditional concept of the self-portrait.[3]. Much could and should be written about each of the productions of these artists who use the image of their own body (or not) to talk about a totally fused self in issues that go beyond the mere exploration of bourgeois subjectivity. They are artists who, beyond the “Selfie artistic”, seek other directions for the practice of art today.

[1] – Thaddeus Chiarelli, “Anna Bella Geiger's work and the collapse of the self-portrait traditionallyl”. Bar(r) conversation. ARTE!Brasileiros, January 29, 2020.

[2] – About the artist, consult, among others: Tadeu Chiarelli, “Sidney Amaral: between affirmation and immolation”, published in ARTE!Brasileiros, October 8, 2018.

[3] – To name just a few more, how can I not remember the works of Gretta Sarfaty, Alex Flemming, Hudinilson Jr., Amilcar Packer, Lia Chaia and, more recently, Junior Sucy, Moisés Patrício and Renata Felinto?

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