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Reflecting on Self-Reflections, ‘Cindy Sherman’

A reflection on the selfie? Such navel-gazing can be, well, stomach turning. On Wednesday in the Think talk studio, Dallas Museum of Art curator Gabriel Ritter cringed at the word “selfie” – it sounds “childish,” he said. Ritter firmly pointed out that self-portraiture artists such as Cindy Sherman, who refuses to call her character-driven photos self-portraits, are doing things much more involved than fawning in a mirror and clicking a button.

If you listen to the podcast of Wednesday’s show, you’ll sense Ritter’s distaste for narcissistic displays. A part of me wanted to take a break (after deleting selfies) from all social media avenues after listening to the discussion. It also included Erin K. Freeman, who studies narcissism and peer assessment at the University of Dallas; and Jordan Frith, who focuses on social media and location and image-based apps like Instagram at the University of North Texas.

Hip-hop is one of the cultures Nikki S. Lee infiltrates during a recent project focusing on identity.

And I was really ready for that break especially after visiting the DMA Thursday for Ritter’s lecture on how non-Western artists use appropriation and identity statement in self-portraiture. First off, a good art talk can make those hours spent seeking or giving validation on Facebook or Instagram look pretty precious. Think of how much you could learn in that space. And Ritter introduced the group to someone who explores the idea of relationships influencing identity: young artist Nikki S. Lee, who’s known as the “Cindy Sherman” of Korean culture.

Lee does not agree with that tag. In fact, when an attendee of the talk asked when Lee would visit the DMA, Ritter said he invited her to speak about the Cindy Sherman retrospective at the museum and she declined. Instead of posing as ideals or characters that make it to our consciousness via mass media like Sherman, Lee plays roles in a space that can be as filled with theater and adjustment as a full-on attended movie set – real life.

For her Projects series, the NYC-based artist spent months integrating into different cliques: seniors, high school girls, strippers, Latinas, lesbians. She learned the mannerisms and norms of fashion for each, and had her friends took snapshots with a simple point-and-shoot camera of her transformed self with these “new friends.” Check out the video Ritter shared featuring Lee’s take on that series, as well as “Parts,” which looks at the emotional space between couples.

Cindy Sherman runs through June 9. Another opening of interest: That Mortal Coil: Rebuking The Ideal In Figurative Art, which features work that rebels against our cultural preoccupation with beauty and perfection, opens at CentralTrak Saturday.