You Look Familiar | British Council Türkiye

About The Exhibition

You Look Familiar
Curated by Ulya Soley

You Look Familiar explores the power of portraiture to challenge stereotypes through the portraits from the British Council Collection. Portraiture is a tool that represents cultural tendencies, social relations, identity politics and political agency because a portrait is never just a depiction of a person it signifies many qualities of the sitter, as well as the culture surrounding him/her.

Portraiture is a relation through another figure. It reflects the relationship and power dynamics between the artist and the sitter. Traditionally an elite practice, portraiture was a statement about class: not everyone was portrayed. Today, portraiture has become an important tool for diversity: for making the invisible visible, for making a stranger familiar, and against class fixation. The question of who was eligible to be portrayed has changed over time, the power relationship between the artist and sitter shifted from a patronage of the sitter towards the patronage of the artist, or an equal exchange relationship between the two. Self-portraiture has also became a prominent medium of expression, mostly reflecting diverse selves.

The idea of representation is constantly questioned with portraiture: stereotypes, gendered depictions, race and class politics and histories are challenged. The works in this exhibition reflect on this idea of representation. They challenge various conventional assumptions of portraiture. They question what kinds of people are portrayed, how much information a portrait can reveal about its subject, and whether portraiture is a reliable source reflecting the truth.

In the exhibition, Frank Auerbach portrays a paid model and plays with the traditional idea of only certain people can be portrayed. Jake and Dinos Chapman ridicule the contemporary art world with re-introducing the idea of a commissioned portrait by placing a studio in a commercial art fair to portray people who pay. Lucian Freud's life size portrait of his wife Kitty reflects his ambition to reveal deep understanding of his sitter's personality. Craigie Aitchison presents a portrait that challenges the idea of portraiture as an elite practice. Michael Fullerton investigates different types of representation and how representation might be related to power in portraiture. Gary Hume's simple and ambiguous portrait of the artist Cerith Wyn Evans is a contemporary take on the portrayal of public figures.

John Davies focuses on the materiality of portraiture. Lubaina Himid fights for the importance of diverse political agency through portraiture. Richard Hamilton portraits class mobility through intervening with a photograph. Madame Yevonde ridicules high society roles by blurring the lines between reality and fiction through portraiture as well still life photography. Tracey Emin's self-portrait raises questions about self-representation. Sarah Lucas challenges gender representations through a series of self-portraits. Morag Keil blurs the line between the physical and digital with a self-portrait with a mobile phone. Kenny Macleod expresses different identities through video by playing with the viewer's expectations of listening a coherent story. Diversity of the self comes into play in Chris Ofili's painting. Mark Wallinger witfully reflects on national identity and fixation with class through a self-portrait. Last but not least, David Shrigley makes a daring attempt to reverse whose portrait can appear in public space and in what form.

The works in the exhibition cover a large time span, representing 80 years of British portrait tradition including contemporary works. You Look Familiar is simply an invitation to become familiar with new faces.

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