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From Self Portraits to Selfies: The Evolution of Self Expression

October 21, 2018, CONASUR

Self-portraits have long been a way that artists used to give their audience a glimpse of their lives and how they perceive themselves. However, as social media has taken the digital world by storm, a different form of self-expression has surfaced selfies.

Selfies let people share themselves with their friends and peers all at the touch of a button—but the evolution from self-portraits to selfies comes with an array of different meanings and connotations than the original art form.

Self Portrait Ellen Maidman-Tanner WCADC Member


Self Portrait, Frida Kahlo

Artists like Frida Kahlo drew inspiration from juxtaposing elements of her life, such as her Mexican culture and inner turmoil. Her portraits depicted themes tinged with pain, likely a result of a tumultuous childhood and adult life. Regardless of the motive, for centuries artists have capitalized on the opportunity of self-portraiture to mix their artistic abilities with a complexly colored inner psyche.


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Self Portrait Lois Mailou Jones (courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Born in Boston, MA, Lois Mailou Jones began her artistic career in textile design before focusing on fine arts. After leaving the US for Paris in the 1930s and 1940s, she became one of the most notable figures to attain notoriety for her art while living as a black expatriate. Above all, she looked towards Africa and the Caribbean when painting. The vibrant colors and rhythmic forms greatly influenced her style.


Amrita Sher-Gil (Courtesy Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi, India)

Amrita Sher-Gil was a pioneer of modern Indian art, so much so that she is often referred to as India’s Frida Kahlo. Particularly skilled in blending traditional and Western art forms, she had a talent for capturing the female form. Above all, Paul Gauguin’s paintings of Tahitian women impacted her. He presented the women acknowledging the viewer and displayed their bodies for observation, or as Sher-Gil thought exploitation. As a woman having both Hungarian and Sikh origins, she decided to confront Gauguin’s paintings. Consequently, she created Self-Portrait as a Tahitian (1934). Here she challenges Gauguin’s idealized nudes. Therefore, in an act of defiance, she does not face the viewer or acknowledge their gaze.

Self Portraits vs. Selfies

Constant selfie-taking keeps people more conscious of their appearance and allows them to share images of themselves that document where they’ve been and what they’ve accomplished.






WCADC next call for art: What Do You See When You Look At Me? Humans are a complex species - spirit, mind, and body. We see ourselves in different ways and decide how we want people to view us by our packaging. Self-portraits have been used to exhibit the beauty of life; tell a story of a particular place and time; and shed light on political, social, and ecological issues. Our social media screens are filled with selfies, contemporary self-portrait. Some would say these self-portraits are our self-indulgent need for affirmation and acceptance. And after all our posing, does the viewer see what we want them to see? WCADC invites local women artists from DC, Maryland, and Virginia to create figurative and representational self-portraits using their choice of medium and style in portraying what they want the viewer to comprehend about them.

April 30, 2023 is the deadline to apply.



Please apply -EntryThingy - WCADC

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