In the era of the social-media-minute-fractal-communications-hyper-obsession with the individual: the ‘i’, the ‘self’ and the minutiae trivia of their self -serving personal affectations and revelations of one sort or another as captured by & in a selfie, today self-portraiture as a genre of the visual art starts to acquire a somewhat rarefied, occasional presence.
Perhaps not unaffected by the ‘selfie phenomenon’ in its opposition to it, today, it is also a rarity for the artists seeking to assert their individual takes on the subject of self-identity as defined by the genre.
A visit and a careful look at the selection of self-portraits in the exhibition Dogma Prize in Self Portraiture 2015, now on show at Vietnam Fine Arts Museum, presents select contemporary Vietnamese artists’ view of their individual self-identities and perhaps gives an insight into a more general picture of how Vietnamese artists perceive and think of themselves today.
Together with the the jury of the Prize Competition and the selection of the works for presentation in this exhibition, there also forms an affirmation of a certain perception, of a certain view, of a certain narrative evocations of ” what constitutes a self-portrait” . It is symptomatic of a shift in the contemporary take on (self -) identity, that becomes apparent and surprisingly prominent in its unified (re -) presentation in this show.
A brief mental search through the best examples of the genre in the history of art presents a look at the self, where the artist’s own identity is self-defined, enunciated and inscribed in the self-image as an immanent, intrinsic mark of their existential essence, where the ‘descriptive’ and ‘the representative’, which in one way or another tells us something ‘external’ or circumstantial not so much about the artist as such, but rather about their ‘state of affairs’ — if not a substantial, defining part of their self-identity, of their individuality as a being — is a paraphernalia which remains peripheral, because it is anecdotal and extrinsic to it.
Almost frightening in the uniformity of their conceptual sameness, the works in this exhibition present another view of the self, where artists look at and think of their own identity as processed: not so much as an immanent mark, but as the effect of conditions and relations.
From this perspective it is not surprising, but rather predictable that the Grand Prize was awarded to Vo Tranh Than’s, one would think extremist and, literally and otherwise self-depreciative-looking self-portrait: the one with seemingly no head or a face as such, but a crumpled paper in that place, where one can — without much imagination — see in its creases a configured resemblance of a skull… and … is that a peeping eye…?
To be seen in this self-portraiture exhibition is a proliferation of fish and butterflies, closed eyes, wide-opened eyes, normal-looking, tearing, squinting, askew, comic book-round, bicycle-wheels instead, surreally floating yes and no eyes; fractured, scratched out, upside down, metal plate-patched up, mostly realistically painted faces, composed of other imagery faces, obscurely visible faces, semi-covered with other things, obliterated by paint presumed faces, one gas mask-face, and so on.
There are also five sculptures, each in its own state of semi-tortured ecstasy and one video clip on a loop of a pretty face with closed eyes, presumably under the running water in the shower.
The above partial description, a compilation, composed of excerpts of predominant visually symbolic features that meet the viewer’s eyes is not exaggerated or in no way intended as, or to be misconstrued as demeaning to the works on show: it is brought forward here in the same way as one may use quotes from a text and only in as much, as to point out the fractured nature of our contemporary perception of ourselves in today’s world, of our contemporary mode of deliberate objectification of our own individual identity and collective self.
In an exhibition ultimately about artists, there is only one work (by Luong Thi My Le) — the innocence of which is moving and in the context of the exhibition brings about a profoundly poignant sense of loss — an expressed allusion to Van Gogh — conjuring the ultimate artist’s self-portrait: the image of the artist with the cut off year, with his desperate sunflowers of a symbol on another artist’s jumper… “in the search of the universal truth”….
Notes:  and  quoted from : Quynh Pham, The Possibilities Of Self-Portraiture Are Endless, exhibition catalog The Dogma collection Dogma Prize In Self-Portraiture 2015.
| Ilza holds the deep conviction that there is nothing more damaging than indifference and that only a critique, based on peer to peer assessment of contemporary art practices, is the way to broaden and encourage the creative thought and new original artistic ideas — fostering a better understanding of contemporary visual art and the role of the artist as a creator of cultural values.|
Ilza Burchett is an internationally exhibiting artist, now based in Hanoi, Vietnam.