Jen Kiaba, Burdens of a White Dress – Portfolio Competition Winner

Exhibition Dates: January 29 – February 25, 2021

In my project Burdens of a White Dress, I use self-portraits to explore leaving an identity, a culture, a language and a family behind. I was born into the Unification Church, commonly remembered as the Moonies cult. After being forced to marry a stranger, I fought my way out.

This project explores religious conviction as it crumbles into a failure of faith, and the loss of identity that results. The photos depict my questioning the norms with which I was raised; each image stands as a mile marker in the stages of self-discovery, cognitive dissonance, shame and grief. I imagine the camera as a viewer, an omniscient witness to my inner moments of turmoil. By casting the viewer as witness my aim is to provoke empathy and conversation about seeking an identity outside of societal constructs

To create the work, I have chosen a consistent palette of red, black and white because of the strong associations these colors conjure: sin and strength for red, purity for white, and darkness for black. The bias and symbolism associated with these colors challenges the viewer to question their assumptions and beliefs within my photographic narrative as they witness the journey playing out before them.