The Saatchi Art Gallery London is planning to explore the modern day obsession with self-portraiture as an art form
From Selfie to Self-expressionism, an exhibition that will open in March in London, plans to showcase a selection of famous artworks as well as “selfies that have quickly become icons of the digital era.” The focus of the exhibition will be self-portraits from artists through time, which will include Van Gogh, Tracey Emin, Rembrandt, Velazquez, June Calypso and Kutlug Ataman. The modern versions of these will include the Obama and Cameron selfie, the incredible space selfie to name a few. Nigel Hurst, CEO of the Saatchi Gallery that is holding the exhibition says that, the smartphone selfie is an example of a shift in society using technology as a form of self-expression. “In many ways, the selfie represents the epitome of contemporary culture’s transition into a highly digitalised and technologically-advanced age as mobile phone technology has caught up with the camera,” he said, adding, “the exhibition will present a compelling insight into the history and creative potential of the selfie.”
While Saatchi gallery might be the first to hold an exhibition, the debate about selfie being an art form has been raging for over three years now. In 2013, when the Oxford Dictionary declared “selfie” to be the word of the year, The Atlantic, did a fantastic piece on the subject in which Noah Berlatsky argued that, “…the selfie is a deliberate, aesthetic expression—it’s a self-portrait, which is an artistic genre with an extremely long pedigree. There can be bad self-portraits and good self-portraits, but the self-portrait isn’t bad or good in itself. Like any art, it depends on what you do with it.”
None of us can argue with the fact that the selfie has forever altered the way we communicate with each other, with ourselves, altering not only our body language but also our sense of self and self-awareness. In a way it’s portraiture that is distinct and with its own set of rules. It is also a form of self-expression, which one may argue legitimately makes it art. A different genre of art, but art nevertheless.
According to Google, over 93 million selfies are taken every day. The figures seem close enough considering how much of an empire Snapchat has built on our obsession with documenting ourselves. But does that documentation qualify as art? Throughout history, humans have been obsessed with documenting themselves. The first self-portrait date backs to 1365 BC (Pharaoh Akhenaten’s chief sculptor Bak) Since then numerous artists have followed this documentation process, artists such as Frida Kahlo, Van Gogh and even Amrita Shergill for that matter documented themselves in their paintings. “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best,” said Kahlo.