Constructing an Iconology of the Whitened Face as a Visual Gap
Wiebke Leister (London College of Communication, University of the Arts London)
Paper short abstract:
This theory-practice project seeks to hypothetically develop an interdisciplinary iconology of whitened faces from different backgrounds by performatively cross-referencing their diverse cultural histories in form of a fluid genealogy of reoccurring visual tropes.
Paper long abstract:
White face-masks and white face-paint have been used in many cultural contexts long before the increasingly racial discourses of positivism and colonialism started mapping people into anthropometric categories. My presentation examines the use of whitened faces by constructing a visual narrative from these character tropes, thus suggesting an impossible intertextual iconology of the Whitened Face. Rooted in photography's relationship to mental images, my research experiments with conjuring up phantoms of our latent visual memory by imaginatively connecting them with images of symbolic figures that emerge out of all cultures that equally turn the face of the performer into a white screen. Accordingly, this theory-practice project seeks to hypothetically develop an interdisciplinary iconology of Whitened Faces by performatively cross-referencing their diverse cultural histories in form of a fluid genealogy of reoccurring visual tropes, evoking many variations and incantations echoing across time and space. I see my exploration of the ubiquitous history of these white face personas as a form of sighting, archiving and re-disseminating figures that are in many ways 'haunted' by themselves, thus proposing an anthropological paradigm. Theoretically speaking, I encounter these photographs as living entities rather than death masks. The research addresses the facial canvas of both the face of the image and the face in the image, thus investigating the gap between imaginary reading, photographic mark-making and visual ghosting by interweaving a number of intercultural rituals - turning the emptiness of Whitened Faces into projection screens for the viewer's imagination.
Constructing and Contesting Imaginaries: Anthropology, Photography, and the Histories of Durable Visual Tropes