From Him to Her: Transvestites, Masks, and Nudes Invade the Harbor Art Gallery

MiMi Yeh

When you first walk through the metal doors, you are psychologically slapped in the face by a large photograph of a strangely androgynous-looking creature in a green sequined gown. With broad shoulders but a slight frame and delicate eyes, it seems questionable as to what is the gender of this smiling, sibylline person.

The subject of this photographic documentary, in fact, is a man named Mark, a Philippino albino who decided to dress up as a woman in order to experience life as such. Before attending the opening of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Mark (or Meredith as he is now known as) needed to have his hair and makeup professionally done, as well as finding a gown. Max Cangiano narrates this metamorphosis through a series of photographs of Mark in various poses: sassy and bold in the final stages, stock still and serious as his face is carefully painted, etc.

An interesting follow-up to the story of Mark: not long after this was done he started dressing in drag more frequently. Eventually, Mark decided to fully complete the transition to Meredith. He is currently undergoing hormone treatments and the required therapy before receiving an operation that will physically alter him so he will be a woman.

Cagiano is just one of the three photographers who are exhibiting at the show, appropriately entitled “Bare.” The other two are Fiona Gardner, a sculptor and photographer, and Charles Bandes, also a photographer.

Gardner’s work consists of two papier-mâché heads: one a self-portrait and the other, a portrait of her best friend. The viewer is forced to rely entirely on Gardner’s interpretation of hers’ and her friends’ faces. Done in the style of Greek and Roman busts of noblemen, she explores the use of these idols as the sum of the persons’ being.

The project, in its entirety, relies upon manipulation of light and shadow. Although the features remain unchanging, the clever trick of lighting and angulation can cast a seemingly and deliberately bland expression in a different perception entirely. The features can be indirectly contorted into a cold, flat stare or an inscrutable, Mona Lisa-esque smile. Gardner calls it “indirect portraiture, a two-step removed interpretation using photography as a medium for the truth.”

Finally, we come to Charles Bandes’ nudes, a study in contortion and shadow as he uses the camera to explore the various crevices and planes of the human body, boldly displaying breasts, knees, and thighs. The faces remain unseen, hidden and cut off by a lens that favors a hunched, fetal position or a figure twisted to reveal the feminine mystery.

Particularly striking is a peculiar piece featuring a pair of flaming hands caught up in the fiery-hued oranges and golds, resembling a palm-sized sun going nova. The hazy, corona surrounding the fingers was created using specific filters during the development process, when color is added.

This is one of the few exhibits on campus in which I’ve been able to appreciate and comprehend the art. By chance, I happened to be in the gallery when Fiona Gardner and Max Cangiano were there. Like a significant portion of the population, I’m perplexed by some of what these artists come up with. Discussing their work with them better enables me to understand and enjoy the works displayed within.