For his first of many self-portraits, Jimmie Durham laid on the floor and his partner, artist Maria Thereza Alves, outlined his body on a large piece of canvas. He then carved the masklike head out of cedar and attached it to the top of the canvas. A variety of materials, including chicken feathers, human and sheep bones, and a seashell, stand in for Durham’s hair, ear, skull, and rib bones. A series of handwritten texts—conveying the artist’s humor and dry wit—draw attention to the ways in which identity is often understood to be “written on the body.” What began as a singular experiment served as a catalyst for an ongoing interrogation of self-portraiture as a genre that has allowed Durham to explore topics pertaining to race, gender, ethnicity, and cultural heritage.
Jimmie Durham, “Self-portrait,” 1986. Canvas, cedar, acrylic paint, metal, synthetic hair, scrap fur, dyed chicken feathers, human rib bones, sheep bones, seashell, thread. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Contemporary Painting and Sculpture Committee. #JimmieDurham