Sunday, October 18, 2009


What these three women have in common is the subject matter that they work with: Female Portraits. The style in which they make these portraits is very different though. A comparison of selected works by each artist will show this. First of all, the time period in which the artists were working has an effect on the differences between their pieces. Frieda Kahlo’s work is the oldest. She created her portraits through painting. Cindy Sherman and Cui Xiuwen were able to use photography and digital imaging to create their portraits. Frieda Kahlo’s focuses on self-portraiture. She represents herself wearing various clothing styles and with different objects or animals. The significance of Kahlo’s self portraits is that her works are about events in her life. Cindy Sherman’s Film Still series are self portraits yet these portray Sherman as someone else. Cui Xiuwen uses a model for her Angel series.

One thing that I noticed when looking at Frieda Kahlo’s self portraits is that they seem very still. As with the other artists’ work, there is emotion present in the pieces but the way that she paints the figure is really still. She is always either standing or sitting with perfect posture. Her face is almost always turned slightly to the side and if her hands are not holding something, they are stiffly placed in her lap or by her sides. She always represents herself having a stern look on her face which after reading her biography, I believe is in relation to the fact that she suffered many struggles in her life. No matter what objects or setting she paints herself surrounded by, her expression is always the same. I get a sort of feeling of emptiness when I look at her paintings. I feel that even though she is always in a surreal setting, her facial expression seems to indicate that she has no reaction to the world around her.

For Cindy Sherman, her work is quite obviously about the female place in the world. The way she expresses this is somewhat opposite of Frieda Kahlo. The women in Sherman’s portraits are reacting to the world in the photograph itself. More broadly, the works themselves are made to be feminist works about the way women are viewed by the world. When I look at Cindy Sherman's Film Stills, I wonder what has happened before the photograph was taken. Though Frieda Kahlo's paintings, which seem to be staged and posed, make you wonder about them, Sherman's photographs look as if they were taken right in the midst of an action. Cindy Sherman's facial expressions in all of her photographs show a great deal of emotion which add to the wondering of what is happening in each piece.

In contrast to Kahlo and Sherman, Cui Xiuwen seems to use digital imaging to enhance her photographs. Like the others, she does surreal, feminist work, but hers add another level of interest especially in some of the photographs when the model is dupilicated over and over. Her choice in making multiple images of the same model appear in one photo makes me wonder what the significance is of this pregnant woman. She emphasizes her subject with digital imaging--enhancing the colors so it almost looks as if it were painted. When I look at the subject of the Angel series, I get a feeling of sadness and maybe helplessness. The model's face always looks sad, exhausted or pensive. I am unable to tell if she is happy to be expecting or not. It seems that she is not though. Cui Xiuwen, Frieda Kahlo, and Cindy Sherman all work with surreal female portraits but their execution of their pieces is very different.

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