Selfies turn into art form

A gallery assistant in front of an audio-visual installation, titled Hello World! (2008), by American artist Christopher Baker at a press preview for the exhibition From Selfie To Self-Expression at London's Saatchi Gallery.
A gallery assistant in front of an audio-visual installation, titled Hello World! (2008), by American artist Christopher Baker at a press preview for the exhibition From Selfie To Self-Expression at London's Saatchi Gallery.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Old Masters' self-portraits are featured alongside contemporary selfies taken on phones in an exhibition of the history of the selfie in London

LONDON• Rembrandt, Andy Warhol and Kim Kardashian make unlikely bedfellows at an exhibition of the history of the selfie - from Old Masters' self-portraits to contemporary selfies taken on phones.

London's Saatchi Gallery last Friday launched From Selfie To Self-Expression, a show billed as the first of its kind.

It kicks off with Rembrandt, the 17th-century Dutch artist whose dozens of self-portraits created an intimate autobiography with confident brushstrokes.

It examines how self-portraiture in painting evolved as mirrors produced increasingly life-like images, particularly after the invention of silver-glassed mirrors in the early 19th century.

Works by the likes of Renoir, Cezanne and Monet are represented on digital screens that visitors can "like", just as on social media.

Joseph Ducreux, an 18th-century French artist, cheekily portrayed himself smiling and pointing a finger right at the viewer.

But the bulk of the exhibition is made up of photographs, many taken by contemporary artists such as Warhol, as well as thousands of amateur shots.

Modern-day selfies are different because they show "how we would like the world to see us, rather than how we are and who we are", said Saatchi Gallery chief executive Nigel Hurst.

"It's no coincidence... that most selfies are shot in pretty exotic locations, on holiday when people are experiencing things that are away from their humdrum, mundane lives. It's not about sharing our humanity, it's about really sharing a version of our identity that we would like people to believe."

In the digital age, the selfie has become ubiquitous and the word was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013.

Running till the end of next month, the exhibition includes selfies by reality TV star Kardashian and soccer player David Beckham, and even the first selfie shot by an animal (a monkey).

In 2015, Kardashian released a book of her selfies titled Selfish and is seen as a pioneer in the genre.

TV presenter Ellen DeGeneres' record-breaking Oscar selfie in 2014, which earned more than 770,000 retweets in half an hour, is also featured.

"People transform social media into something that is very expressive of being Chinese, or English, or Trinidadian and that is also true of the selfie," said University College London Professor Daniel Miller, who researched the phenomenon around the world.

"In southern Italy, people feel they almost have a responsibility to represent Italian stylishness. In Trinidad, you want to be highly individualistic."

The exhibition concludes with a critical stance on selfies, with an installation by Mexican artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and Polish artist Krzysztof Wodiczko of 12 surveillance cameras.

"Selfies are not an option, it's something that is opening out our identity for good, but mostly for bad, shaping up a controlling society," Lozano-Hemmer said.

"The problem is not that we don't have privacy anymore."

AGENCE FRANCE- PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 03, 2017, with the headline 'Selfies turn into art form'. Print Edition | Subscribe