Deborah Willis, In Pursuit of Beauty: Imaging Closets in Newark and Beyond

Image: Willis' work from In Pursuit of Beauty on display at Shine Portrait Studios. c/o Shine Portrait Studios

Shine Portrait Studio

Shine Portrait Studio at Express Newark is pleased to present, In Pursuit of Beauty: Imaging Closets in Newark and Beyond, a solo presentation of new site-specific work by Deborah Willis organized by Shine Portrait Studio Curator-in-Residence, Kalia Brooks. This project marks Shine’s first large-scale artistic endeavor and given the space’s historic function as James Van Der Zee’s professional photography job in 1911, In Pursuit continues a tradition of radical examination of portraiture and self-identification.

The “closet” in the American-English vernacular has long been a metaphor used to describe the psychological parts of ourselves that are kept most private, or hidden from public view. As an expression, it points to the zone of our secrets, or the site of our deepest vulnerabilities. The work shown In Pursuit of Beauty explores these innermost aspects of ourselves, symbolized through closet space, and how we perform our identities based on how we desire to image ourselves to the world.

Willis photographed the closets of residents in Newark, towns and cities in the surrounding area, as well as New York City to examine the complex relationship between self-fashioning and identity in contemporary culture. The resulting photographs expand on her influential work as an artist, scholar and educator studying and creating photographs that reflect on personal and collective memories of beauty. Through her investigation of the closet as a site where beauty is enacted through the representation of our private and public selves, she subverts its implication of hiding something and celebrates the closet as a space of empowerment for individuals authoring their own identities contrary to social or cultural convention.