Providence, RI…In May 2023, the RISD Museum will present The Performative Self-Portrait, an exhibition that explores the complexity of identity through photographic self-portraits. Featuring over twenty artists, the exhibition foregrounds the potential of photography to enact the self, investigate history, and articulate identity. In the fifty photographs on-view ranging from 1930 to the present, the camera is used as an active tool to understand, activate, and perform selfhood.
As questions of identity — from race, gender, sexuality, and ability to religion, nationality, profession, and politics, are increasingly at the fore of national conversations — the artists featured in The Performative Self-Portrait turn the camera back on themselves. In some cases, these artists are exploring the materiality of their bodies or highlighting the ways they identify. Others are locating themselves in history, playing with narratives, or questioning the very limits of what identity can do.
From capturing themselves in shadows and reflections to trying on alternative or speculative identities, the exhibition highlights the ways in which gesture, pose, photographic chemistry, and pre- and post-production manipulation enacts the self. These performative actions establish identity and the self as a site of possibility and transformation.
“We are delighted to present this selection of photographic self-portraits, a number of which will be on view at the RISD Museum for the first time,” states curators Conor Moynihan and Matthew Kluk, “This presentation centers work by LGBTQ+, BIPOC, and women identifying makers, among others, to highlight the dynamic intersectionality of identity as rendered through the medium, processes, and magic of photography.”
Featured artists include Vito Acconci, Laura Aguilar, Andre Bradley, Claude Cahun & Marcel Moore, Harry Callahan, Jess T. Dugan, Erik Gould, Ann Hamilton, Juliana Huxtable, John Kelly, Mark Klett, Mehdi-Georges Lahlou, Sol LeWitt, Robert Mapplethorpe, Susan B. Markisz, Martine Gutierrez, Ray Metzker, Slava Mogutin, Yasumasa Morimura, Barbara Norfleet, John O'Reilly, Carolee Schneemann, Cindy Sherman, David Benjamin Sherry, Renée Stout, Francesca Woodman. Curated by Conor Moynihan, Assistant Curator, Prints, Drawings & Photographs, and Matthew Kluk, Brown PhD 2025, History of Art and Architecture.