This past Saturday So Say We All held an opening reception for a new photography exhibit called Masked/Unmasked. The two-woman show features work from San Diego-based artists Adriene Hughes and Rebecca Webb.
Related Story: Masked/Unmasked Unveiled At Green Scene Gallery
CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. October is a month we deal light-heartedly with masks and costumes. But there's a deeper side to the artifice, we use to disguise our identity. This past Saturday, so say we all, held an opening reception for a new photography exhibit called masked, unmasked. The two women whose work is featured in the show are my guests. Rebecca Webb, a photographer and film creator. Welcome to the show.
WEBB: Thank you. It's great to be here.
CAVANAUGH: And Adrian Hughes is a multimedia artist working in photography, and experimental dance film.
CAVANAUGH: Rebecca, your photos are part of a larger project you're working on called gentlemen's paintings. What does the title refer to in
WEBB: The images are based on Goya, a parent from the 18th as much. And he created a body of work called gentlemen's paintings, which were presumably for a male audience. They were rather risque. He also painted a series of portraits of society women. So the photograph really is about audience. And that's where the name came from. The idea that gentlemen's paintings are for a certain audience, and probably going into that more later --
CAVANAUGH: It's about audience and it's about who's doing the looking and who's doing the portraying and whose image is being portrayed and what that means to the audience that's receiving it. We do have some portraits by Goya on our website. Describe what these photos do look like for people who can't get to the web immediately, Rebecca.
WEBB: Okay. Well, they're 20 by 30, they are images that are sandwiched on airplane grade metal and covered in glass. And the actual images of women -- 21 portraits, and they're women who are assuming the poses that Goya painted from the 18th century. And they're in bucolic settings. It's this idea of our contemporary society juxtaposed with the surroundings of nature
CAVANAUGH: Did you want to recreate these paintings specifically or did you take liberties?
WEBB: Lots of liberties. I'm trill just referencing the poses and the ideas again about audience
CAVANAUGH: I see. And whoa is the audience for these photographs?
WEBB: The audience really is society at large. Francisco Goya, as I said, painted for a segment of society. I'm trying to reach society as a whole in terms of how we view women in their mid-life, and what's appropriate.
CAVANAUGH: So who did you choose as your subjects?
WEBB: Well, it was interesting how I found thel. I chose women in their mid-life as I am myself, in '40s and 50s, and women who defy our societal expectations and what's appropriate for this age. And I found them through various mean, through Craigslist, word of mouth, and sometimes I'd stop someone on the street or find them in a tattoo convention. So it's a variety of sources
CAVANAUGH: Give us an example of how someone is defying what we expect to see from a woman in her '40s or '50s.
WEBB: So -- well, I was sort of lacking back to it from, say, the 1950s to now, and how different society -- their expectations of women, how they would appear, what was appropriate. I think now, it's really looking at how women defy that, and it may be very youthful, and maybe sometimes they are approaching the youthfuls that is -- it is ke-- defined. What we deem appropriate, the right skirt, the right collar around our income not showing too much, or the right shoe. Some of the women might wear motorcycle boots with tattoos all over their arm, and that's the not what you envision your mom to be dressing like, so --
CAVANAUGH: You have a larger woman who's basically wrapped in sort of a pink gauze, and she has long blonde hair that also has pink streaks in it, if I'm not mistaken.
WEBB: Correct, yes.
CAVANAUGH: And the look is beautiful but it's also startling and also very chemicaling.
WEBB: If I may ask you, what do you find challenging?
CAVANAUGH: I find it challenging in the aspect that you're talking about, in how we expect to see a gentleman's painting, and here we have a woman who is obviously very secure in her own identity and is not being put on display, really, for anyone except herself.
WEBB: Exactly. It was interesting, the shoot itself too, that she -- one aspectSPRAEKT of the work is that I asked the women to come with whatever they'd like to wear themselves. It's not something -- I didn't dictate to them what they should wear. However they feel colorful and how they want to express themselves. I described the project and where my attention was. This woman is named Tess, and she came to the park and brought out the pink tulle, and I was so pleased, because it was exquisitely beautiful, the pink tulle, and the pink hair. And people's expressions, just walking by, their expressions, and they're just incredulous. That is an important part of it too, that the subject comes with her own idea of how she wants to present herself. And if I may add, it's this notion of how do we perceive ourselves, not only what we think of ourselves, but when we see our image, and what we feel about our image doesn't match our expectation of how we would appear
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm talking about a new photography exhibit called masked, unmasked at green screen gallery. And my guests are the two women whose work is featured in the show. I've been speaking with Rebecca Webb. I want to bring ABrian Hughes in the talk here. And Adrian, you have photos in this exhibit that you were literally in a mask, in a very unusual mask. Describe for our listeners who these photos are -- well, first of all, what the mask is
HUGES: Yes, I actually in this series am performing a sense of self by donning a male deer mask withantlers. And through these photos I perform my existence within nature, and within the domestic violence space
CAVANAUGH: And with other people
CAVANAUGH: Describe a photo to you. Just and they are on our website as well, at KPBS.org, if people want to go there right now. There's this one that's very arresting of the it's you and a man on a couch. Tell us about that.
CAVANAUGH: This person that decided to participate in the project with me is actually an ex-boyfriend of mine who was with me while I went through my therapy for breast cancer. And I asked him if he would be a part of this project because I felt his participation was important in describing what it meant to be a survive of breast cancer. The images are startling. I have to admit. We didn't intend it to be that way, but has dog jumped up on his lap, and assumed this very react pose, and very Napoleon, in a way, so we each have this expression, one gazing off into the distance, my deer mask gently looking off, but the dog also looking in another direction just kind of pointing to this ambiguous relationship
CAVANAUGH: And talk just a little bit about what the catalyst are these forts were. How did you come upon the mask?
HUGES: I found the mask online, actually. But in 2005, while I was going through therapy for breast cancer, I used to on my good Sundays visit the swap meet. And there was a particular vendor who had this booth, tables covered in red cloth. And for some reason, he would always put out this deer mount --
CAVANAUGH: Mounted head of a deer
HUGES: And it would be sitting on the table, the only object, I'd walk by and stare at that poor animal that had been decapitated, and in so many way, I felt a relationship with that animal. I felt like a deer caught in the headlights with my diagnosis, and thereafter how I was dealing with the therapy, and going through chemotherapy, and how difficult it was for me to talk about it.
CAVANAUGH: So you used the mask as a metaphor for that whole process that you went through where you had become in ray sense transformed by this disease. And you also may off the imagery of Greek mythology? How does that fit in?
HUGES: In Greek mythology, they use these fantastical stories within their society, but the stories were also reflected in half animal, half human. Like medusa with snakes on her head or ki-Ron who is half man, half horse. Also within Greek mythology was the notion of fair theatre. Women were not allowed to perform on the stage, and only men could perform the roles of women, but the ironic side is that men also wore female masks to perform the notion of what is woman. In my deer mask, even though it's a male head, I am that Greek myth logical figure, women's body with a male's head, claiming her identity, and talking about this process of survivorship. And the male mask in a way, strepts strength and fortitude.
CAVANAUGH: What I found really intriguing is when you're with another person in that ambiguous -- with the deer head on, and you look at it, and you say I don't know what's going on in this photograph. We don't know these people. If you took the mask off, I wouldn't upon what was going on in the photograph either. And it just made me realize that that separation, just looking at an image and thinking you know what's going on, because the things are recognizable, I think you bring it around the edge to show us that we don't know what's going on in a photograph if we don't -- if we haven't had access to the people and we really know them, and know what their conversation is
HUGES: I think the strength to conceptual photography is that we might not necessary he know what the project is about. But the photograph stands on its own what no explanation is necessary. And I feel that my photography doesn't really need explanation, I believe the viewer understands that there is is a certain amount of emotional capacity that is being reflected and spoken to the viewer when you find out that my work is really about my struggle with survivorship. When you're done with chemotherapy, no one says to you, okay, now that you're done with schemee therapy, you go on your way. But we're left with this catalyst of what happens to me now. And how do I deal with the notion of surviving and not knowing your future? And how do we live as women in this world of survivorship?
CAVANAUGH: Both are you, Rebecca, and Adrian, are dealing with gender identity, and the fact that most of the women that we have seen in images, either in photograph or in paintings in years past, generations past, are images that have been created by men. Why is it important do you think to have image was women created by women, Rebecca?
WEBB: Well, I think too that when you're working with your subjects, there's the affinity you feel. And I think that's really important in that work is not objectifying. And I think that's the key word is that I'm not denigrating or exposing but I'm really talking about something I'm going through as well. So the affinity I have with my subjects I think makes the work stronger. And I'm really talking about something to me that's really important and I think a lot of women my age go through, that identity struggle at this age. I think that's what it comes down to, that connection I feel, and it's coming from an authentic place.
CAVANAUGH: And Adrian, the images of women, of yourself in this case, by you.
HUGES: I think by donning a male deer's head I'm kind of subverting the notion of what is male and what is female, much like the Greek mythological figures that had a dualness to them, a duty of essence and gender. [CHECK AUDIO] but also putting up a warrior mask with horns and claiming myself as this vulnerable figure. Sometimes in a stance of bravado, and sometimes withdrawn. The work points to my own sense of informative, and how I would like to express my sense of femaleness and identification.
CAVANAUGH: And of course, this is the Halloween season where a lot of people deal with masks and costumes. Have you thought about this exhibit in terms of the season in the time of year?
HUGES: Well, yes. I mean, I think it's kind of serendipitous that we were exhibiting during October. But what I didn't think about as well as this that this is breast cancer awareness month is that these photograph it is are exhibiting during the time where so many women are thinking about what their identity is going through. So it's this duwillity, we're talking about women who struggle to identify themselves with chemotherapy, and women who choose to put a different self on, and perhaps wear a mask, especially in a time of Halloween.
CAVANAUGH: And putting I different self on, putting a different costume on, a different image is on S exactly what you're talking about in your gentlemen's portraits, tre-Becka.
WEBB: Exactly. We wept through several iterations of the title because I don't -- I don't want to be too heavy, but at the same time I don't want to make too light of what we're trying to talk about in our work and make it too fantastical or theatrical. There are some serious subjects here, but there's the right amount of levity in terms of the way we presented the work. I did have some issues showing the work this time
CAVANAUGH: Sure. Yes. That brings another level.
WEBB: It absolutely does.
HUGES: It strengthens the subjects. And point to this is a time where we do wear masks, but we present ourselves in this time where masks are so much a part of our culture
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to tell everyone that the exhibit, masked, unmasked runs through October 30th, rightly so, at the green scene gallery on 30th street. I've been speaking with artists Rebecca Webb and Adrian Hughes.
HUGES: Thank you.
WEBB: Thank you so much, Maureen. It was fun.