Portraiture and Diaspora
This paper presents a diaspora perspective on identity and portraiture, drawing on notions of difference, being, becoming and absence expressed through a body of artwork that incorporates the photograph, the (photo)copy, and the drawing. By positioning portraiture alongside diaspora, this project explores notions that arise from common experiences of globalisation and dispersion. It asks how contemporary portraiture reflects a diasporic understanding of the world, and, in particular, how diasporic portraiture ‘thinks through’ identity and subjectivity.
While diasporic identity can be understood in terms of ‘double consciousness’—as a tension in belonging to past and present—it may also be rethought in terms of an indeterminate future. Explorations of diasporic visual culture can enter such a discussion not only through representations of diaspora, but through a ‘diasporic’ approach to representation. This approach allows for an authentic portrayal of presence in a ‘still’ representation, where the idea of presence incorporates change or becomings, as well as the simultaneity of difference and sameness. The re-visioning and rethinking of the relationship between portraiture, diaspora and subjectivity shifts the function of the portrait from a referential to a performative role, finding significance not in the fixed identity of a sitter/subject, but in the relational and collective subjectivities forged between artist, subject and viewer. Portraiture, then, can be understood not so much as a genre within the borders of a territory that includes or excludes, but rather as a cultural site that contextualises the desire for, in Avtar Brah’s words, a ‘politics of identification’ as opposed to a ‘politics of identity.’
Imaging Identity: media, memory and visions of humanity in the digital present
A symposium hosted by the National Portrait Gallery and the Research School of Humanities, AustralianNational University.
15-17 July 2010, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra.