I became obsessed with self-portraiture during the year that I turned nineteen. As a performance artist who, quite frankly, has very minimal skills within the field of visual art, I was searching for an avenue to frame, question and challenge my own self-image and identity in the way that visual artists have been doing for centuries. “Self-Portrait, Age 19” was my first attempt to do just that. I don’t remember much of my nineteenth year other than crippling hunger, constant exhaustion, and severe self-loathing that I desperately tried (and somewhat succeeded) to mask from friends, family and university professors. I was barely eating while dancing and exercising at least six hours every single day. Nineteen was a year of self-induced punishment, a year of attempting to take up as little space as possible, a year of perpetual hiding and shame. Fortunately, by some miracle, my self-portrait exploration dragged me up from the depths of this impenetrable darkness and offered me a necessary cathartic channel for reflection and healing. For this, I am forever grateful.
In the years following the creation of my first self-portrait, I have challenged myself to share an annual self-portrait each spring. Every single year I ask myself, “Who ACTUALLY gives a shit about how I see myself?” and almost decide to wholeheartedly abandon the project all together. But every single year, a small voice inside of me begs to be given space, to be heard, and to be seen, so I recommit myself to the ritual that has brought me so much solace and salvation over the years.
I can’t quite explain why I am so interested in the idea of a “self” for it’s certainly not an original idea, far, far from it in all actuality. What I can say, though, is that the deeper I dig the more I come to understand that what separates my “self” from the “self” of any other entity is a very fine and severely delicate boundary. We all experience loneliness, we all want to know love, we all walk through this world with hopes, burdens, pain, and an urge to find meaning and truth. Maybe this is what I’m searching for: the common experience that every “self” shares, the silver thread that is woven throughout all of our trials and tribulations, no matter how alone we may all feel. My self-portrait investigation has helped me see that loneliness and being alone are not the same thing and that we have the opportunity to, at times, experience the melancholic euphoria of sometimes being alone together...what a gift.
Photo by Alonzo Blanco