Art: Oneself As Another, Royal West of England Academy

The Royal West of England Academy is currently hosting a series of exhibitions that revolve around notions of identity, self and image.

Oneself As Another, curated in association with bo.lee projects, is a presentation of works from painters, sculptors and photographers who challenge concepts of 'perfection' in the human form. Whilst focusing on 'imperfection' – or rather aspects of the human appearance that are not universally/generically praised as 'perfect' or beautiful – the works highlight differences rather than the all-too-often highly valued stereotype of beauty.

The centrepiece is Ione Rucquoi's striking Sanctae. An installation of 28 larger-than-life photographs of female nudes, the piece forces us to think about the transformation of a woman's body through childbirth. To an almost-uncomfortable extent, Rucqoui confronts us with flesh, pain and the aspects often deemed as shameful or embarrassing during pregnancy and early motherhood. There is a strong religious element with halos adorning the women and the space having been architecturally-devised to feel sacred.  Scars, weight-gain and lines of leaked milk, it's all there, and to stunning effect.

Cathy Lewis's statues are exquisite and charming. Smooth white casts decorated with ornate patterns and unexpected garments, her pieces in this exhibition focus on diverse cultural celebration. I loved being greeted by three figures in Pomp and Bric-a-Brac upon arriving at the exhibition.

Also included are several paintings by english surrealist Francis Bacon and some striking sketches by Lucian Freud. Johan Andersson supplies large portraits of visually-impaired subjects from his Stolen Faces series. From across the room, these hold an inescapable gaze.

Tom Butler's Cabinet of Curiosities Series is careful and exquisite – a collection of antique photographs altered to test perceptions of what an antique photograph can be. And Sarah Ball's collection of small portraits is similarly thought-provoking.

We were, of course, unable to avoid the painful cliché of a plain mirror entitled Your Authorised Reflection by Gavin Turk – it had to be in there somewhere. Look out for Rosie Pentreath's Your Face and Here's Looking At You in future exhibitions. No, in seriousness, Turk's work challenges us to think about authorship, self-portraiture and how a person's reflection (visual and psychological, perhaps) can change based on situation and a sense of one's self.

Other works included brook & black's video installation commentating on twentieth-century self portraiture, pieces from Bob Carlos Clarke, sculpture exploring ethnic origins by Emil Alzamora, oil paintings by Neil Moore and Wanda Bernardino and a caricature of actor John Malkovich by Stuart Wiggins

For those interested multi-media portraiture, it is an absolute must-see.

Pomp and Bric-a-Brac, Cathy Lewis | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Everything, Emil Alzamora; in the background: works by brook & black, Johan Andersson and Emil Alzamora | Photo: Rosie Pentreath
The Paisley Boys, Cathy Lewis | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Your Authorised Reflection, Gavin Turk and Nakaia, Johan Andersson | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Jerry, Johan Andersson and Orlando, Cathy Lewis | Photo: Rosie Pentreath
Sactae (detail), Ione Rucquoi | Photo:

Ancestors, Emil Alzamora | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Orlando, Cathy Lewis;  Nakaia, Johan Andersson and Ancestors, Emil Alzamora | Photo: Rosie Pentreath
Malkovich, Stuart Wiggins | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Entrance to Oneself as Another, Royal West of England Academy | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

By the entrance to Oneself as Another, Royal West of England Academy | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Oneself As Another runs until 26 March 2014.

Also showing at the RWA is Actors and Artifice, featuring portraits of actors throughout history from the gallery's own holdings; Idols and Illusions, iconic photographs of stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood from the John Kobal Foundation; and Likenesses, a collections of photographs by Judith Aronson.



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