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She would consider herself defiled [SLIDESHOW]

essay

She would consider herself defiled [SLIDESHOW]

A slideshow of one LSB’s photographic process that involves putting out casting calls for her lookalikes, transforming them into witches through make-up tutorials, and the hybrid identity that results…


SLIDESHOW:  ILONA SZWARC


As a foreigner to the United States, I stand outside the dominant order while immersed in my own process of becoming. This position, unique in that it is my own, and communal in that it is a space I share with so many others, is the source of my interrogation.

As a woman, it is in my nature to engage a perpetual process of creation, turning the self into an experiment in reproduction.  Employing the use of look-alikes, women who I believe share my general appearance, I am exploring aspects of mirroring, staging and performance, seeing myself in the face of the other. I am interested in notions of becoming – how an individual assimilates and makes oneself imperceptible in society while engaging a series of internal transformations aimed at finding a kernel of truth amidst the noise.

Taking inspiration from stage make-up tutorials, I am playing with the surfaces that we construct to produce and affirm our identity. By following instruction manuals and reinterpreting them through my female gaze, often mimicking the persona of a male make-up artist, I am able to see what happens when gender roles are reversed and lines blur between passive and active bodies. By dismantling these false constructs, by taking apart the language of identification, I give birth to hybrid identities and in-between spaces, ones ripe with the tensions, breakthroughs and catharsis that take place within the sphere of possibility.

This process of becoming – the abstract line – disrupts any sense of chronological, linear narrative and prevents meaning from unfolding. At times, it can appear obscure and haunting, the gestures violent and aggressive. At first, I would observe myself in the eyes of the double, an act of mimicry that mirrored myself back to me, all the intricate details of how I embody and occupy myself. I then turn to the image of the witch, a signifier of women’s cultural un/belonging, a woman on the margins of culture, a form of feminist mythology constituted in relation to and as an alternative to the established male-centered master narrative. It’s an intertwined space of gender fantasy, one that challenges stigmatized forms of sexuality, age, ethnicity and religion.

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Ilona Szwarc is a photographer and artist living and working in Los Angeles, California. Szwarc received an MFA in Photography from Yale University and a BFA from School of Visual Arts. Szwarc’s photographs have been featured in numerous publications worldwide including The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, TIME, The UK Sunday Times Magazine, The Telegraph Magazine. Szwarc has been awarded Richard Benson Prize for Excellence in Photography, Arnold Newman Prize for New Directions in Photographic Portraiture, World Press Photo and most recently chosen as FOAM Talent. Her work has been exhibited both in the US and internationally, most recently in Los Angeles at Regen Projects and Shulamit Nazarian, and in New York at Danziger Gallery.

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