BSC Artist Spotlight! Diana Fine - Photographer

Blue Scarf Collective is thrilled to feature photographer Diana Fine at our upcoming show Art In The Time of Resistance at the Pierro Gallery in South Orange May 10-June 17th. Diana explores themes and conversations around the politics of gender identity and culturally-informed norms, particularly those that speak to the complexities and contradictions
inherent in the lives of women in post-colonial Gambia, Africa and the West. 


How long have you been making self portraits?

Self portraiture is something that I’ve done for many years, mostly in private and, until recently, work I’ve only distributed amongst friends and acquaintances with odd taste. Initially it came out of a desire to be seen and, in a sense, heard without necessarily putting myself out there. But you can’t fully escape that part. There’s always something somewhat autobiographical about them and if that aspect isn’t clear in the beginning, it’s just a matter of time.

Have you always liked being in front of the camera?

As a shy, quiet kid growing up, I hid from cameras. To this day, you won’t find me leaping in front of cameras, shoulders back, arms wide, inviting the image maker to have a go at taking a piece of my soul, though I tolerate it. Some time around the age of 20, in an effort to learn how to use an unwanted, Pentax camera that had been thrown my way by a college professor at RISD, I started making pictures.  Being a bit of an introvert, and not wanting to bother anyone with investing time to help me learn how to use it, I turned the camera on myself for practice. It’s something I think every photographer should do. No one’s ever going to be as willing to endure the trial and error, long hours of experimentation or suffer the blood, sweat and tears necessary to bring an idea or concept to life before it’s even clear to you, than you.

Did the process make you a little more comfortable being in front of the camera?

No, but the moment I realized what a creative outlet it was, I was smitten. I loved playing different roles and seeing myself transformed and portrayed in so many different ways. Like any independent expression of a vision, it’s extremely time consuming but ultimately, it’s empowering because you get to be the one to direct and focus the outcome and you learn so much by wearing so many hats, literally and figuratively. Learning to transform and depict your own image while keeping ownership of it, for women self portraitist in particular, is a really powerful way of drawing the female body back from hundreds of years of depiction/control by men.

How does self portraiture help you make sense of the world, the internal and external?

Well, it’s definitely a powerful vehicle for analysis. Even healing. And ultimately, I think nothing teaches you more about the pain and suffering of others than taking a good look at the roots of your own. Making self-portraits, for me, creates a space, a practice where I can express my own and others’ suppression of culturally informed or biologically-based identities, psychological burdens, desires, preoccupations. Other times it’s just a way to play around with being someone entirely different. All the make-up, clothes, prosthetics, props, costumes and sometimes costume design that goes into each shoot…it’s all to access those places and spaces where our bodies, particularly women's bodies, identities, rights, and pressure to get in line impact us. 

What artists or works have influenced your work?

The honesty, humor and naked beauty of Francesca Woodman, the fusion of the political and poetic by Shirin Neshat, the stealth genius of Carrie Mae Weems leveling the past and the present, the intensely personal introspection at the heart of Frieda Kahlo, the playfulness, grandiosity and grit that was Lee Godie, the ever experimental force that was Maya Deren. These women rock my soul.

What is your process?

Hunt. Gather. Hibernate. Create.  I’m easily distracted.

Do your beliefs and judgements stay static when you explore different issues through your art?

No. Something always cracks open in me. To what degree…that varies. When I take steps towards starting a piece about an issue that I might have a lot of judgment around, I find that I come out the other side of the project with more empathy than when I started. There’s something about using the self in this practice that leads you to the humanity we all share, the vulnerability, the fragility, the grasping that's true of all of us. Though it may not be my top focus or goal, especially around issues that are painful for me or others, in the process, I find more patience for weakness, conformity, ignorance, narcissism, self deception, superiority complexes, greed even. They don't lose their “badness”, but they lose something much more important. And that is their ability to hold me captive and cloud my awareness of the real issues that are at the core of the struggles and the pain being multiplied and passed on. It serves as a reminder that there’s no singular truth to be found when we really start exploring and asking questions. 

So would you say there’s something liberating about in the process?

Sometimes. And it’s wonderful when that happens. When I explore issues that are related to the suppression of identity for example, I just feel freer because I feel like I’m able to detach myself, if only for a while, from the pathology or limitations therein that I’ve somehow felt burdened by, even burdened by indirectly. When you show work around issues such as these, you hope that, at some level, it allows others to untether themselves from ideas, judgements, patterns, etc., that keep us stuck, that keep us sick, that keep us continually playing old recordings in our heads that limit our expressions of who we are, keep us small, and/or keep us from seeing the intersectionality that connects us all. 

Do you ever find that certain issues you haven’t experienced directly are too foreign for you to create art around?

I was born in The Gambia and my father’s job with the United Nations moved us from The Gambia, to London, to New York, Pakistan and Liberia.  Living in so many places as a child meant being immersed in different cultures and thinking a lot about where you and the culture you brought along fit in. I’m always amazed by how similar we all are. How similar the challenges we meet in our day to day are and the big ones that leave us peering down from the precipice. The realization never gets old. Although each generation births new individuals, we're all standing around breathing in molecules that’ve been spinning around from the inception of the universe, through the mass that was Confucius, Anne Frank, Billy Holiday and on to you and me. We are one and the same.

How does that feeling of commonality affect your overall view of society or culture?

No matter how different people seem to be on the outside, you always find one, if not multiple things you have in common, whether that's a core belief, a superstition, a love of one’s children etc. I believe very strongly in human rights for all, regardless of race, class, tribe, gender, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, disability, political affiliation etc. My belief that we should all have these rights is deepened by my clarity around the fact that we are more alike than different. We just are…I know that’s unacceptable for some. And the reasons why we decide not to extend human rights to all, to me, seems very much based on details that are ultimately unimportant and inconsequential.

Sarah Klein