Emirati artist Lamya Gargash’s recent photographic works combine to create a rather unconventional show. While the 29-year-old artist herself does feature in ‘Through the Looking Glass’, she says she instead uses others to reflect on her own perceived insecurities and the way in which she sees herself.
Gargash is, by her own admission, the first to criticise her own appearance, so she attempted to reach out to people who were the same. Inspired by the work of US photographer Cindy Sherman, she sourced a prosthetic artist to exaggerate imperfections or defects of her subjects, then photographed them before and after. ‘The project could, in some ways, be categorised as a self portrait – it’s an extension of myself, using others. It talks about self perception and that we see ourselves differently in our mind than how others see us,’ says Gargash.
Jimmy (above) ‘To create these lips, poor Jimmy had to lie on the floor, then we placed the prosthetics on him. My studio is now equipped with razors, shampoo, face wash, baby wipes, make-up remover – it’s all there because we’d need to wash their face before trying anything different.’
She explains that photographic portraits are relatively new to her. ‘My old work was primarily spaces and interiors, but I wanted to evolve. I became very interested in the subconscious mind and what goes on within ourselves,’ she reveals.
The project turned into a rather a lengthy process, taking two years from concept to completion: the main hurdles were finding a Dubai-based prosthetic artist and people who were willing to commit to the project. We quizzed Gargash to get the lowdown.
Bryce (above) ‘There is this idea of men and roughness – some men think their hands are too feminine. We gave Bryce female hands and nail polish. To fit the [prosthetic] hands in his shirt, we had to buy a shirt that was one size bigger.’
What was involved in organising this project? It started more as research: trying to find specialists to work with, whether it be prosthetic artists or make-up artists, calling the models and finding people that could commit to the project. It required a lot of time, patience and organisation. We had to group all our models in different batches, take their measurements, get their pieces made and then shoot them. It was also very hard to find a prosthetic artist.
Who are the subjects in the photos? Some of them are my friends; a lot of them are friends of friends. Initially, I had so many people wanting to take part, but I had a lot of people back out at the last minute.
How did you decide which imperfections to focus on for each individual? In some ways it’s more of a self portrait. But we had meetings with each of the models and I sat them down and asked them what they didn’t like about themselves. It’s their interpretation, but it’s also connected. Originally we had 10 people wanting to focus on their noses or their arms, but we had to try to keep it diverse.
Maria(above) ‘We decided to go with Maria’s nose, and made it really crazy. The prosthetic artist we used is a sculptor. He emailed me her nose and said, ‘How much bigger do you want it to be?’. I sent him some images to show exactly what I wanted.’
How did you get such perfect symmetry in the shots? They aren’t completely perfect. The images are separate shots, we had the first image on a screen and tried our best to match the first shot with the second, so they would reflect.
Would you call yourself a shock artist? Suprisingly enough, I’m not really a shock artist. I’ve wanted to do this for a while, but I was never really sure how I could implement the idea. After the first few shoots I was going to back out completely. I wasn’t sure how prosthetics work, what could happen with them – there were a lot of faults. I’ve shot more than 30 people, so it was quite intense. I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to explore the simple idea of self perception and I really threw myself into the project – I really wanted to elaborate using other people.
What kind of camera did you use? I was shooting with three different cameras: Canon Mk II, Hasselblad and Rolleiflex. We were shooting with the Hasselblad and the Rolleiflex at the same time.
Amer (above) ‘That’s my husband. His defect is called an orbital ridge – if you look back at the prehistoric times, a lot of men have accentuation of this area.’
What would you like viewers to take from the show? Even though it’s presented in a very simple manner, I think it’s very intense. You walk in and you look at all these exaggerated defects. I always tell my students that if the work is personal, you have more to say about it. If you capture something that you’re familiar with, you’re able to produce a grander body of work than if you tried to tackle something of which you have no experience. I always think it’s important to be as personal with the work as possible, and not just copy for the sake of copying.
There’s a very wide mix of people shown in this exhibition. Yes. I couldn’t see myself just having only Emiratis. We have Armenian, Egyptian, Emirati, Indian, Russian, Bahraini, Irish, English, Lebanese, so we have a very interesting mix of people. I think they all make up the cultural diversity of the city.
Lorraine (above) ‘Lorraine said she was unhappy with her ears. The prosthetics sat on top of her lobes – they were tailor-made. That was an issue I raised with the models: if they back out once the prosthetics are made, it’s a waste of time, money and energy.’
The lowdown Exhibition: ‘Through the Looking Glass’, until June 30 at The Third Line, Al Quoz (04 341 1367). Artist: Lamya Gargash. Price range of works: Dhs18,300 to Dhs25,700.