Skip links


“The great debate of the art of our time will not have been the debate of the figuration, and the abstraction, it will have been the debate of the representation of the face and its impossibility “

 Jean Clair.

Line for line

The portrait, and a fortiori the self-portrait, is etymologically resolved in the specular equation of “line for line”; as who would say eye for eye, cheek for cheek, spot for spot; peripatetic of a barter between flesh, organ and accoutrements… on the one hand, lead, ink, pigment… etc. On the other ,It is always the case that between the model and the reportage lies a remainder which makes the head stubbornly pass from full foot to the pictorial fiction (sculptural…), that the glance is damaged by taking itself in the game of its reflexivity, that the skull points irrevocably under the skin.

This barter or this protocol of homothetic transport is not carried out without surprise, and if one proposes to portray oneself, which would be a way of in-figuring oneself it is never without de-figuring oneself in the meantime. And each hold or catch of our mounts, hollows, bones, and moods does not go without this misunderstanding which makes us measure in spite of the illusionist pact, the distance between my head and its representation. One will quickly come to the idea that an ontological dissimilarity separates the good grain of the skin from the factitious grain of the canvas. But it is in this great gap that the aesthetic gains its form!

Self-portraits, here and now

To paint, to represent, to give, here and now, in Tunis in 2014 refers us ipso facto to an initiative to a question.

The initiative is lovingly carried and then exported, to us artists, by the curator of the exhibition: Imen Ben Rhouma. The institutional endorsement and co-signed by the adhesive sympathy of the two gallery owners: Aicha and Amira.

The question is that opened by a sub-genre, in fact unfinished and unfinishable: the self-portrait. The question sums us up to measure the complexity and the extent of a problem which puts us under tension, solicits investigation, discharge and resolution.

In the end, we are exposed to this challenge: to deliver our image or what makes it authentic. To establish on support (canvas, paper, etc.) or by means of other materials and mediums (photo, printing, scraps, etc.) this artifact which would be like my symbolic double; or this frail and intermittent link between physics and metaphysics. Put differently: through a glimpse of oneself, how to make access to the presence, this problematic trade between the flesh and the culture; between the identity and what subjugates it or disintegrates it. In one go, to give the veil and the unveiled, the style and the cry, the phoenix and its ashes!

Head to head

A “tête à tête” with oneself where I can get damaged in the “who am I” would be an unbearable posture without the help of a surface or of some artifact constituting this projective screen if not this malleable matter which make pass the confusion of the affects of the images and the representations to the test of the textures of the matters and the signs. By modulating a little we will add: every reflection or self-reflection that it participates of the speculative cogitation or of the optical imagery claims a resistance and a making. The resistance is that of the screens-subjectiles, of the signs and of the matters; tructures and places of inscriptions, of imprints and of their transfigurations. The making is that of the hands, the tools and the machines that work with what resists to make pass from the invisible in the visible.

The fact remains that this “tête à tête” to which we are invited turns out sooner or later to be a “tête à tête” and to the “who am I” is grafted more or less a “who are we?

Any conversation with oneself engages a negotiation between the singularity of my genes and the generality of culture, and to grasp oneself in the singular does not go without this divestment generated by the plural. “I am; we are” is not only a linguistic aberration!

Head to mask

The works exhibited here attest to the possibility and impossibility of making oneself present through one’s head. Very few artists have dared to give themselves “uncovered” face.  But it is necessary to notice that in these self-portraits “to the letter”; from the face one concludes at once to the mask. A whole cosmetic accompanied by a scenography dramatizes this midway between the head and the mask, ensures a traffic between the genes and the culture.

The artist passing on the other side, in volume or flat, under the species of his own features he risks to the game, alone, or among other figures or accessories that face us; we are taken by surprise, it looks at us; the effigy of the artist as a signature betraying an enigmatic presence to oneself and to the world ending up molding in hollow the imminent disappearance of the author; our own is signaled unstoppable in the process.

Head, face, slice, or what takes the place of it emblematizes wonderfully the vanity more than any other still life or living!

The artists, the others, those who do not dare to face the mirror conscious or not, they renew with this old invention reborn for which to paint would inevitably return to paint itself. The artist is like a depository in what he does. All that is of his signature gives it under one of his mask, expresses it by the chasms of the inside if not by the artifices of the outside. An “I am” sticks to its infinite “there is”. But how often does the inexhaustible “there is” exhaust the finitude of the self?

The dispersion and the shattering of the world by the techniques all azimuths undermine the self and its integrity, one is caught in a labyrinth without promise of exit. The self-portrait “without face” would be in this case a fragmentary appropriation of the world to save our skin.

Saving one’s skin by interposing skin – screen cloths or any other material – scarification, tattoos, cosmetics are all appropriative strategies that by conquering and marking a small piece of space ensures a grip on oneself and on a world that now has a human face.

Imed Jemaiel, November 2014


Imed Jemaiel, acrylique sur toile