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This post is a continuation of ’Project 1 #2 Elina Brotherus’ at: https://cormac513273.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/project-1-2-elina-brotherus/

Gillian Wearing (b. 1963) in the series ‘Album’ (2003) uses masks to create portraits of herself transformed into a member of her family. The process is elaborate, as Wearing explained:

When each mask is made, a cast of my face is created in a similar expression to the one I want to copy, in this case my sister’s enigmatic smile. Keeping that expression under the cast is difficult, and the same goes when you wear the mask – if my smile starts to wane under the mask, it shows. So many shots from the final sitting were really bad, quite monstrous; I ended up only having two I liked (Wearing 2012).

The resulting self-portraits of Wearing behind these silicon prosthetics are visually arresting when the viewer looks closely and realises they are looking at a mask worn by a person (see fig.1.). It is interesting that in Wearing’s previous work ‘Signs that say what you want them to say’ (1992-93) there is ‘an element of unmasking’ in that ‘Wearing stopped people in the street and got them to write down what they were thinking before photographing them’ (Durden, 2014:165). This has the effect of revealing something of the person holding the self-made sign. Equally, in ‘Album’ wearing turns a different revelatory process upon herself so that:

The elaborate disguises the artist wears, when combined with the snapshot “realism” of the original images on which they are based, create an eerie fascination that serves to reveal aspects of her identity rather than conceal it (Guggenheim, s.d.).

Another self-portraitist who utilised masks is Gunter Brus (b. 1938) in ‘Self-Portrait, 1964’ (see fig. 2.). Here however the process and purpose is different:

The artist has covered himself with white paste, and then marked with a brush what might be a line of dark stitches leading from his scalp to his neck. It looks as if his head has been opened up and then put together again. The work was a performance closely allied to photography, and was intended to show a self-inflicted savagery aimed at taking the sins of the world on his own shoulders (Jeffery, 2014: 79).


Wearing, Gillian (2012) ‘Gillian Wearing takeover: behind the mask – the Self Portraits’ In: The Guardian [online] At: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2012/mar/27/gillian-wearing-takeover-mask (Accessed on: 13.01.15)

Guggenheim (s.d.) Gillian Wearing: Trauma and the Uncanny At: http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/education/school-educator-programs/teacher-resources/arts-curriculum-online?view=item&catid=732&id=155 (Accessed on: 13.01.15)

Jeffrey, Ian (2014) The Photography Book. London: Phaidon Press

List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Wearing, Gillian (2003) Self Portrait as My Sister Jane Wearing At: http://i.guim.co.uk/static/w-700/h–/q-95/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2012/3/23/1332518227833/Self-Portrait-as-My-Siste-009.jpg (Accessed on: 13.01.15)

Figure 2. Brus, Gunter (1964) Self-Portrait At: http://static.curiator.com/art/x_4b252c52f83bbac3c5c5e94ab8566215.jpg (Accessed on: 13.01.15)