“Sorrow”, the latest work by young Bosnian artist Sejla Kameric, premiering at Sydney Biennale, is a photograph featuring the artist’s nude with a large inscription “Sorrow” in the low right corner followed by a quotation from Michelet “Comment se fait-il qu’il y ait sur la terre une femme seule – délaissée” 1. The self-portrait presents itself as a remake or as a contemporary restaging of a famous Van Gogh’s 1882 drawing, (subsequently lithographed), bearing the same name.
Thus, the artist’s gesture of self-observation, a commonplace in art history, is filtered through a series of cultural references, raising issues such as formal innovations and questioning manners in which a subject perceives its own entity.
And it is up to the spectator to establish the extent of relations between the late 19th century drawing, a nude study of Sien, Van Gogh’s mistress, hunched and crouching with her head in her folded arms, and its contemporary “correlative”.
Although Kameric’s “Sorrow” excels in imitation of the pose and is incorporating original textual procedures, the translated elements shift in position and in meaning in today’s era.
The very fact that the artist chose to observe herself through Van Gogh’s (or Sien’s) lenses does not eradicate the inner perspective of her artwork, but rather demonstrates the degrees of complexity encountered through such a general act as self-observation.
Beginning with Van Gogh’s insertion of the English title, transcribed literally in Kameric’s remake, is not merely a sign of density of messages within the pictorial space, but could be considered a marketing strategy par excellence. Here, a shift is performed from van Gogh’s “cartoon aesthetic” to a branded and polished contemporary image, which reaches nearly a “billboard” status.
The Michelet’s rhetorical and emblematic Romantic question, copy-pasted to this new context, has an entirely different resonance.
The practice of self-representation has been a crucial and critical tool of Sejla Kameric’s poetics. Since her photographic series, Basics in 2001, through Bosnian girl (2003) and video work Daydreaming (2004) she has been exploiting her own image in evoking different referential layers, implying broader social and political context. However, “Sorrow” inscribes a new, deeply personal tone to her modus operandi, intensifying the perpetual “look in one’s own mirror”.
“Sorrow” is equally a self-portrait complying with the rules of the genre and a meta-commentary on some of the fundamental proceedings of modern and contemporary art. It is at the same time intensely intimate and melancholic (the artist’s “mirror stage”, a personal hommage) and lucid in its self-referential perspective of visual forms.
From the Catalogue of exhibition Zones of Contact, 15th Biennale of Sidney 2006
* “How can it be that there is in the world one woman alone – deserted?” (Michelet)