Sense of Self: Four Female Photographers

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Sense of Self: Four Female Photographers is a contemporary photography exhibition that explores the notion of the evolving self through the lens of four mid-career female artists—Frances F. Denny, Brooke DiDonato, Priya Kambli, and Bastienne Schmidt. As our culture continues to encounter sweeping changes related to the role of women in our society, this timely exhibition offers four intimate investigations into the circumstances that point to who they have become in relation to who they once were… or are “supposed to be.”

Each photographer has contributed a series of photographs whose creation was based on a prominent moment or conglomeration of moments/memories/circumstances that has affected their sense of self.

Exhibition curator James Pearson writes, “a photograph is a static marker. Even if the photo is composed to represent a thought or fantasy, as opposed to capturing a moment of reality, the image is still indicative of a temporal moment occurring and then ending. In the work of these artists the photos provide a departure point to illustrate the transitory nature of identity and to begin the investigation into self.”

All contributing artists identify as female; as such, the themes developed by the exhibition rely on a contemporary notion of femininity, and how that notion is challenged, reinforced, accepted, or rejected by the participating artists. The threads created by each individual artist, though, are broad enough that the themes are accessible by all visitors to the gallery space—such threads include domesticity, culture, the family unit, and maturing into adulthood.

Frances F. Denny questions the roles that the matriarchs of her family have performed through multiple generations, and creates comparisons between the heirlooms passed down through her family with those gender-assigned responsibilities and expectations. Let Virtue Be Your Guide (2015) examines the artist’s family, and their deeply rooted history as early settlers of New England (one ancestor, John Howland, was a deckhand aboard The Mayflower). Unearthing the idea of feminine ‘virtue’ from the confines of its historical meaning, the photographs of the women in her family have a watchful quality, as if the artist is defining for herself what it means to be a woman. Her sitters, and the domestic spaces they inhabit, together evoke a well-worn privilege. In the photographs, seams pull apart, exposing the shifts occurring across generations of women. The resulting collection of images becomes a search for meaning in heritage, a challenge to the notion of legacy, and the artist’s reckoning with a traditional version of American femininity.

Brooke DiDonato explores the moment when a maturing adult returns to their childhood home to find that they have outgrown their previous role in the family unit, but can’t quite place where they belong now.

Her House is Not a Home series of self-portraits convey feelings of isolation and discontent experienced when returning to her hometown. In relation to the exhibit concept, DiDonato had a sure sense of herself based on the memories of her childhood home. Upon returning home, she realized that the person she once was no longer existed, and in her failed attempts to secure her identity, she aligned with furniture and common domestic gender roles.

Priya Kambli, in a recursive fashion, investigates the notion of culture and familiar attachment through reworking the only attachment she has to her extended family: the photographs she inherited.

In her artist’s statement, she writes, “at age 18, a couple of years after the death of my parents, I moved from India to the United States with all my belongings in one suitcase. My photographs, which are rooted in my fascination with my parents, visually express the notion of transience and split cultural identity caused by the act of migration. In Color Falls Down these issues are seen through the lens of my own personal history and cultural identity. I re-contextualize and alter my family snapshots and personal artifacts to reveal the correlations between generations, cultures and memory. Color Falls Down is a conversation with my ancestors and also an effort to reconcile the cultural dualities that have helped form my hybrid identity. This conversation began with the domestic objects and family photographs that I carried with me in my suitcase and which have been my companions ever since. My self-portrait is the constant that links my past with my present. In this work I am neither Indian nor American, but the link that chains generations together.”

Bastienne Schmidt creates images based on both the reality and the imagination of the role of mother in a domestic situation. Schmidt’s Home Stills series (2010) evokes a sense of self altered by the obligations of motherhood. From Vicki Goldberg’s introduction to her published book: “Bastienne Schmidt wanders, metaphorically or on foot, in and out of a woman’s life and imagination—her own and by inference many others… It must have crossed the mind of many a mother, faced with caterwauls and runny noses, dust balls and yet another dinner to provide, that it might be a relief to step out of the picture. The housewife and mother’s need to be alone… Several photographs of Schmidt, a.k.a. the woman, looking out of a window reprise a theme that was common in nineteenth-century painting. The subject had a lot to do with the way women were regarded in the past, as domestic creatures that did not belong outside but may have longed for something beyond the hearth.”

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Tour Schedule

Sense of Self: Four Female Photographers will tour September 2020 through October 2025. The dates below reflect seven-week exhibition periods. Dates are subject to change; please contact MoreArt@maaa.org or (800) 473-3872 x208/209 for current availability.

Exhibition Details

Sixty-six photographs by four artists

  • Content

    Fee Includes
    Press Kit
    Registrar’s Packet
    Programming Guide
    Gallery Guide
    Text Panels
    Narrative Labels
    Full Insurance
    Installation Instructions
    Custom-Designed and Built Crates

  • Curated By

    James Pearson

  • Organized By

    Southeast Museum of Photography

  • Out-of-Region Rental Fee

    $6,450

  • In-Region Rental Fee

    $3,870

  • Duration

    seven-week display

  • Shipping

    Common Carrier

  • Running Feet

    251

  • Square Feet

    -

  • Security

    Limited

  • Number of Crates/Total Weight

    5 crates estimated/weight TBD

  • Insurance

    The exhibition is fully insured by ExhibitsUSA at no additional expense to you, both while installed and during transit.