Ken Kitano and Tomoko Sawada at Pace/MacGill Gallery

Image above: ©Tomoko Sawada,  201X. Courtesy of Pace/MacGill Gallery.

On February 26 Pace/MacGill Gallery presented Tomoko Sawada: My Faces and Ken Kitano: our face – prayers, on view through April 25, 2015. In their debut exhibitions at the gallery, Japanese photographers Ken Kitano and Tomoko Sawada examine the formation of social, cultural, and personal identity through portraiture.

Sawada-1At Pace/MacGill Gallery on the opening night.

Recognized for her themed series of staged self-portraits, Tomoko Sawada investigates the malleability of identity through the constant transformation of her physical appearance. Conceptual in nature and often grid-like in format, her photographic works raise questions about social conformity, individualism, and femininity. In This is Who I Am, 2011, Sawada repeatedly appears in front of the camera in the same blue turtleneck, but varying makeup and hairstyles. Initially published as a children's book, the series of 36 color images considers the relationship between internal identity and external appearances. In Recruit/Black, 2006, she addresses the homogeneity of the corporate world by presenting herself as 100 hopeful, young professionals clad in black suits, mimicking the passport-sized photos required for job applications.

TMSA_RCBL_detailTomoko Sawada; Recruit/Black, 2006. Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and MEM Gallery, Tokyo.


Sawada-10 Les and Sandy NanbergLes and Sandy Nanberg at Pace/MacGill gallery on the opening night.


Sawada-7 Ivanna FalconiAt Pace/MacGill gallery on the opening night.

Sawada's most recent body of work, Sign, 2012, inventively employs her signature style to examine branding as a form of portraiture and international identity. Produced in collaboration with Heinz during a residency at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Tomato Ketchup, 2012 presents a 56-image grid of the unmistakable condiment bottle with the text of its label translated into 56 different languages. As Heinz has rarely translated "Tomato Ketchup" for worldwide sales, Sawada crowd-sourced the translations through Google image searches, translation websites, Wikipedia, and her artist Facebook page. Although she has altered the linguistic "face" of the bottle to create imaginary products – much like she has altered her own appearance in earlier works – the global identity of the brand remains visually consistent, utterly recognizable, and culturally universal.

Sawada-13 PortraitTomoko Sawada at Pace/MacGill Gallery on the opening night


Kitano SpreadFrom left to right: Ken Kitano; 23 Female Muslims in Burkas, Dhaka, Bangladesh, No.1, 2008, Ken Kitano; 24 Guards, Tiananmen Square in Beijing, No. 5, 2009. Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and MEM Gallery.

Since 1999, Ken Kitano has explored the idea of global identity in his photographic project, our face. His unique, meticulously produced, large-scale gelatin silver prints appear at first glance as portraits of individuals, but are in actuality composite representations of members of a specific social group or demographic in Asia. Like August Sander's visual index of the German population, People of the 20th Century (c. 1910-1956), the 133 images of our face are typological in their approach to classification. Kitano eliminates any reference to social hierarchies, however, by merging the subjects' identities into a unified, archetypal figure. The resulting group portraits are simultaneously singular and plural, as the title of the series suggests. Kitano writes:

I travel the world, meeting people from all walks of life. The photographs I take of them are then combined on one print. The portraits created through this process are icons of collectives, accumulations of the unique entities of many individuals…. Our world has no center. This project attempts to re-imagine the world as a collection of selves and an assemblage of localities.

Kitano-1At Pace/MacGill Gallery on the opening night.

The photographs on view have been selected by Kitano as visual embodiments of “prayers.” Whether exploring prayer as a daily ritual or as a gesture that extends beyond the realm of religion, these works are, in Kitano’s words, “the portraits of our prayers of today.”

Kitano-6 PortraitKen Kitano at Pace/MacGill on the opening night.

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