Review by Sheila Dickinson
Marsden/Gustafson Gallery at Filmnorth
Oct 12–Dec 21, 2017
Featured artist: Wale Deen Agboola, Pao Houa Her, Peter Phung, Bobby Rogers, and Sarah White
Twelve photographs, mounted on Dibond, hang in groups of three around a casual waiting room area in a refurbished warehouse. The photos fit the cool and relaxed vibe. All portraits, most close ups of a face, emanate identity and energy. All but a few are highly stylized images of stunningly beautiful people. Without frames the art looks like pages from a fashion magazine on display. The curators of “FACE,” Nathan RP Young and Teeqin Zea-Aida, agree the inspiration is “flipping through glossy glamour mags” but still “face the luxury of ethnicity and virtuosity of color.” Focus on the surface is intentional.
Two of the photographers take the viewer somewhere deeper and richer: Pao Houa Her and Sarah White. I wouldn’t expect anything else from Her’s work, it never disappoints and consistently stands out as the strongest work in group exhibitions. In “FACE,” Her has a black and white portrait of an older woman nestled among large plants. It is bound to seem out of place as the only black and white photo and the only photo of someone not young and gorgeous. Sarah White’s Mixie Power indeed holds a power by revealing naturalness in lighting and mood, absent in the other photos. She shows a young woman from the shoulders up in a plain white sheath and a flower wreath in her hair, conveying an age and wisdom beyond her years while performing an indigenous ritual.
The other beautiful people on display seem shallow and perhaps misguided in their pull to the light and superficial, the sheen and the power of the look. Viewing this show in my overworked mother’s body, barely able to find a minute to have a shower, much less put on decent make up, might affect why I’m not drawn to any of the photos but that of the old woman. The remaining faces of those in their 20’s seem intent on showing something meaningful in the surface of the perfected skin, iridescent and divine. The curators said “we’re not after original–we want you genuine.” However, the real feels hidden behind the stylized that is distant from a true self.