Yasumasa Morimura: Égo Sympósion
Over the past forty years, Japanese artist Yasumasa Morimura has explored constructions of identity and representation in his photography, film, and performance work. Through skilled use of makeup, costumes, props, and digital manipulation, Morimura transforms himself into renowned artists, iconic works of art, and influential historical figures, primarily from the Western canon.
One of the most celebrated contemporary photographers of the late 20th century, he has photographed himself in the guise of Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665), a variety of famous works by artists such as Francisco Goya, Frida Kahlo, and Édouard Manet, and recognizable portraits of Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, and Mao Zedong, among others. These elaborately restaged pictures are at once an homage and a critique, and wryly confront complex issues concerning self and nationhood, cultural appropriation, celebrity, gender, and authorship.
In Égo Sympósion, Morimura’s first feature-length film, he stars as eleven artists celebrated for their self-portraits—in order of appearance: Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Diego Velázquez, Vermeer, Rembrandt van Rijn, Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Vincent Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol, and, finally, himself.
In a series of vignettes with Morimura reciting the voice-over narration, the artistic protagonists contemplate aspects of their lives and their impulses for artmaking. Both playful and poignant, Égo Sympósion more broadly questions how art history is scripted and rehearsed. “These are questions that do not have ready answers,” Morimura remarks. “Various truths are no doubt concealed in the paintings that have been left for us. On the other hand, a painting can be seen as a fake, something caked with falsehoods and misunderstandings. A painter’s testimony is at once a confession of a hidden truth and an attempt to overwrite their life with a false statement.”