Credit Line: Purchased with funds from the ISU Women’s and Diversity Grant Program. In the Permanent Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, IA.
The series is called Untitled, yet, anyone familiar with the history of Western art cannot help but recall the imagery of the Pre-Raphaelites or the dramatic gestures featured in Renaissance and Classical paintings. Ophelia, the Last Supper, the fleeting nature of human life, and the ineluctability of Death are, indeed, among the themes that we find in Stephanie Brunia's photographs. Shot for an undergraduate project and featured in national exhibitions, the artist recognizes that she wished to pay tribute to Classical masterpieces before moving on to a more personal mode of expression in her later projects, such as The Space Inbetween. With Untitled, Brunia invites us to reflect both on how Western Classical art still influences us but also how we can make it our own. The artist undeniably ponders how certain archetypes, transmitted through art, have stood for and even shaped women's identities historically: the (required) frailty or plumpness of the bodies, hysteria and mental illness, gendered violence, rivalry, but also solidarity as the "river rescue" photograph shows. Since Brunia transposes these archetypes in contemporary settings--namely through the clothes and body diversity--we realize how they persist but also how they may be contradicted. If some of the women characters featured in the photographs still seem to have fallen prey to an unknown violence, most of them do not appear as victims or mere objects on display. Some even exude a sense of power and determination, especially in the supper image. With Untitled, Brunia demonstrates how classics may be acknowledged, transmitted, questioned and eventually transformed.
Written by Dr. Michèle Schaal, Assistant Professor, World Languages and Cultures for the exhibition (Re)discovering S(h)elves.