FYS Art History: What Do You Want From Me?

The Barbara Walters Gallery is delighted to present FYS Art History: What Do You Want From Me? Curation and writing by the students in Sarah Hamill’s Class of ’23, Histories and Theories of Photography. This exhibition is open to the Sarah Lawrence community from April 1, 2021–September 12, 2021 at the gallery’s location at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY.

What is a portrait? How does it depict someone’s identity? Does a person’s face have to be visible? What happens when the line between fact and fiction is unclear?

This exhibition, What Do You Want From Me?, takes its name from the title of a photograph by French Surrealist, Claude Cahun (not included in the exhibition). Cahun used the camera to unfix the self, not allowing any one portrait to stand for their true image. This exhibition looks at how a portrait can shift our ideas of the self by making the invisible visible, by misrepresenting, glorifying, or reinforcing stereotypes, or by forcefully condensing the subject to a singular, two-dimensional plane. We view the photograph as an opening and a closure: it presents a unique, yet singular visual knowledge about its subject, telling only part of a larger story.

We have curated this exhibition from the Sarah Lawrence College Art Properties Collection, putting into conversation photographs that may have never come into contact with one another. This exhibition does not shy away from the complexities of what it means to capture a person’s face or body from a position of privilege and power and raises questions about how a portrait maps a subject, generalizes a person into a type or stereotype, or heroizes workers or victims of class inequality. It also explores the limits of portraiture: what happens when objects substitute for bodies, or when the subject of a portrait is faceless or invisible? As Claude Cahun wrote, “Under this mask, another mask. I will never be finished removing all these faces.”

Class of ‘23, Histories and Theories of Photography

Exhibit publication

Thank you to the benefactors of the Annette McGuire Cravens ’45 Summer Internship in Visual Culture for funding this publication.

PDF format, 94 pages.