Donna Bassin, My Own Witness: Rupture and Repair – Portfolio Competition Winner

Exhibition Dates: July 16 – August 8, 2021 

“What is a portrait, if not an acknowledgement of a human encounter: an opportunity to imagine the life of another?”

Following the 2016 presidential election, I initiated portrait collaborations between those who – through race, sexuality, gender identity, age, ethnicity, and/or disability – felt they had been deemed invisible and un-entitled to their place in this American moment. Storytelling through pose, gesture, gaze, and props, they turned themselves “inside out” to visually assert their identity and invite a visceral face-to-face encounter with their humanity. The shared black velvet background and chiaroscuro lighting create an aesthetic unity, joining the individual to the collective. 

I responded to the further injuries brought on by the pandemic, ongoing racial and economic inequality, and further erosion of our democracy by ripping the original portraits to create “wounds” of our individual and collective suffering. Inspired by the Japanese practice of Kintsugi – which mends broken pottery by using gold lacquer to repair damage while highlighting the scars – I restored the torn portraits using golden rice paper and thread. The resulting scars remind us that we must not forget the incidents that create our wounds, but rather use them as a touchstone to move forward and mend our fractured relationships with ourselves and each other.

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