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Looking In: Photographic Portraits by Maud Sulter and Chan-Hyo Bae

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by Bryony Harrison (subscribe)
Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from
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The people behind the costumes
Beauty and the Beast by Chan-Hyo Bae, ben uri museum, gallery
Beauty and the Beast by Chan-Hyo Bae

The artists Maud Sulter and Chan-Hyo Bae both come from very different backgrounds, but their work focuses on similar themes of race and gender in the Western world. In a exhibition at the Ben Uri Gallery, Photographic Portraits explores the question of identity through the subversion of classic mythology.

Born in Glasgow, but with Ghanian heritage, Maud Sulter (1960-2008) was frustrated to find that classic female figures of power are so often depicted as white, sensual objects. In response to this, she created Zabat, a photographic series from 1989 that challenges this western ideology. The word 'Zabat' refers to an ancient ritual dance, celebrating women's empowerment, and while the portraits do not show any dancing, Sulter definitely becomes empowered.

She places herself in the role of the great Greek muses such as Clio and Erato; these women who have always been shown as white beauties, now become African goddesses.

The Korean artist, Chan-Hyo Bae, also places himself as the subject of his photographic portraits, but takes things one step further by dressing up as female characters from fairy tales. With white make-up and period costumes, you do not initially realise that you are looking at a man, and as a result, Bae challenges your idea of masculinity. The addition of Asian objects in the scene (such as a bird cage and action figure) also displace your sense of place and time.

The exhibition lasts until the 22nd September and is the first exhibition in a series to look at the theme of identity and migration.
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Why? Fun for art lovers
When: Until 22nd Sept
Phone: 44 (0)207 604 3991
Where: Ben Uri Gallery
Cost: Free
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