Our bodies are contested sites. Our own narratives about our bodies are often fraught, for pleasures and joys are undermined by insecurities and pain. The narratives of our culture, embedded in movies, fashion, and advertising, also inscribe themselves on us. How are we to claim, to understand, and to enrich a thriving sense of our bodily life? This is the question Art students tackled in their exhibition This Is My Body. The students’ work is being displayed at Durham Art Gallery. The exhibition opening will be held on February 6 from 2 to 4 p.m. The exhibition will run from February 5 to March 20.
The students were challenged by Prof. Phil Irish in their Figure Drawing class to make full-body self-portraits, at life size. “What pose, gesture, or clothing? What visual language? How would students create an image that embodies their experience?” Irish asked. Drawings that take up this challenge form a central thread through this exhibition. The students addressed concerns such as body image, health conditions, negotiating racial histories, inner conflict, innocence and experience, fears, and mourning the loss of a sibling. These young artists greeted the vulnerability of a large-scale self-portrait with courage, imagination, and authenticity.
The phrase “this is my body” comes from the Christian celebration of communion. In the breaking of the bread, we understand that God is with us in our brokenness, even breaking for us; that the many fragments of community are stitched together; and that each body is reunited in a story of wholeness. This understanding lies behind many of the works in this exhibition, allowing fierce honesty about brokenness, while finding hope and meaning within this struggle.