Gulu Real Art Studio: A Portrait of a Village
Gulu Real Art Studio opened Spetember 20th at the The Walther Collection Project Space. The work is a series of faceless studio portraits taken from discarded images of residents of Gulu, Uganda. In each of every 73 images hung in the gallery there is a neatly cut, toggled white rectangle in place of the subject's face.
In January 2011, Martina Bacigalupo was in Gulu, Uganda waiting for her own photos to print at Gulu Real Art Studio when she saw a trash bin full of leftover photographs, the profiles clipped out for use of standardized ID cards. Immediately she wanted them. She asked the owner, Obel Denis, if he could keep them for her. A month later he handed her a box full. I spoke with Bacigalupo at the opening held at The Walther Collection Project Space on September 19th. I was curious about her process of selection and why she chose the images she chose. She explained, “As I was collecting them and sifting through repetition, what I realized was: that this is a portrait of a village. These photographs are symbolic. If there is a nun, it is a symbol of all nuns, a soldier is all soldiers, a nurse is all nurses.” She also explained that this was the last of its kind in Gulu, as the studio has switched to digitally photographing for ID cards.
In each of the discovered pictures, distinctive identities manifest themselves. It seems that the missing space magnifies the subject's identity. Viewers focus on things like clothing, posture, gestures, attitude. In a set of 15 prints displayed grouped together at the exhibition, men are all wearing similar blue jackets. The suit is the first item noticed while viewing the faceless image, and the suit is one required to be worn by all applicants to Barclays Bank. When rendered without a face, the photographs become indicators of class, gender, and political identity.
Gulu Real Art Studio runs until February 8, 2014. The collection is aesthetically impressive and with it carries intriguing and complex stories about the nature of the quickly evolving Gulu society. It is a truly original project and a must see.
Photos and words by Carlos J Fonts.