In a constant state of projecting and connecting, how and what do we understand about ourselves and others? The works featured in Lockbox examine the evolution of portraiture as a platform to express identity within the worlds we inhabit, sampling from histories near and far, global and local, to examine human vulnerabilities. South African photographer Pieter Hugo reveals multiple and varied stories of people in Nigeria: in his series, Hyena Men, the artist photographs itinerant minstrels performing with wild animals on the edges of Lagos, while his close-up of a “Nollywood” actor, John Dollar Emeka, highlights the third-largest film industry in the world. Carlos Gamez de Francisco and Gaela Erwin employ the stylistic trappings of Renaissance painting to challenge historical portraiture, a genre that has traditionally showcased the wealthy and powerful. Gamez de Francisco’s photograph of a Cuban girl adorned with common household materials, projects a confidence and power usually denied to those who are economically insecure. Erwin’s Constance in Contemplation captures the artist’s aging mother looking upward, her white hair forming a halo around her head to create an image of beauty and grace uncommon in depictions of aging women.
Works by Adrian Fernandez, Matt Gatton, Augusto Fanjul, Nobuyoshi Araki, and Jia Aili explore portraiture as performance, while revealing deeper, cultural truths. Fernandez’s photographs of Tropicana Cabaret performers in Havana bear the weight of their costumes (one dancer’s face is almost completed obscured by a lamp shape-like headdress), reducing their individuality to a stereotype. Fanjul’s series Out of the Ring was inspired by the artist’s wife and the many roles she fills both personally and professionally, each requiring the grit and fighting spirit of a boxer. The act of concealment is performative, but adding visual cues to a portrait can also reveal more about the subject and the viewer. Araki’s Kaori is not physically bound by the unused rope beside her, but her traditional kimono and kitschy Godzilla-like figures suggest a more subtle constraint: is her visibility, her identity, ever perceived as independent from her Japanese heritage? Adding visual cues to a portrait can also be lighthearted. Jia Aili’s portrait of famed Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei attempts to humanize an icon; the addition of pink cat ears and whiskers to his face is a nod to Weiwei’s well-known love of cats.