Kira's Portrait

Artist in Focus

by Kira Wilson

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My self-portraiture is a synthesis of performance art, Caribbean regeneration, and the irony of

oppositional gazing.

As a Haitian-Jamaican person raised in the United States, I’ve felt the weight of time and distance, extending my self-knowing into a necessary

realm of imagination.

So, when I began my artistic journey,

I sought to carve new metrics for my existence,

to reconnect to my past.

I photographed my own body, adorned with seashells, and documented the landscapes around me. I hoped to reach towards the lands that had shaped my life experience.

The ethos of “nature is change”

stays at the heart of my work,

so that the natural world may serve

as an iconography of a reclaimed heritage.

“I have been carrying on a dialogue between the landscape and the female body (based on my own silhouette) I am overwhelmed by the feeling of having been cast from the womb (nature).”

- Ana Mendieta


My shells became metaphorical cell-phones, as I conjured the sounds of ancient waves through

the near-comical image of a ‘shell phone’ held against my ears. I hoped to show how I am

longing to reach the threshold of a natural self, who might eventually call me back.

Similarly, I treated my own facial features as remnants of the past and signals of a being whom

I may only dream of knowing. My eyes, cheeks, and nose are gifts of my ancestors, and markers

of an evolutionary constant.

Yet there remains a persistent impossibility, in reaching towards a purist, indigenous notion of

myself. –No matter how much I root my self-image in the earth underneath my feet.

“Let us now move to consider the margins (one can just as well say the silent, silenced center) of

the circuit marked out by this epistemic violence, men and women among the illiterate peasantry,

the tribals, the lowest strata of the urban subproletariat.”

- Gayatri Spivak

At the same time, I find myself wielding the digital camera as a paradoxical tool. In this paradox,

modern technology allows me to materialize my imagination in ways that my “subaltern”

predecessors will never be present to access.

I realize that I will always find my identity within a tense matrix between the future and the past;

the natural and the synthetic; the colonized and the colonizers; the organic and the


“Can I be both image and image-maker?”

“Of course you can do it / don’t you dare.”

-Carolee Scheeman

In this in-between-ness, I hope to reclaim my sense of self-knowing. Following in the footsteps of Schneeman’s concept of “image and image-maker,” I position myself as the subject, object,

maker, and spectator of my world.

Every photograph becomes a performative exercise as I cultivate my gaze through each angle

that my lens casts. As I move my body and observe myself through my viewfinder, I begin my

performance, for myself.

In this way, I take inspiration from Bell Hook’s concept of the “oppositional gaze,” as she

expounds on the power of reacting back to a media world that is devoid of constructive, black

femme representation.

“By courageously looking, we defiantly declared: ‘Not only will I stare. But I want my look to

change reality.”

-bell hooks

"Self-portraiture thus becomes my own act of radical performance, through which I seek to build a new reality upon the foundation of my life."

- Kira Wilson

Article by Kira Wilson @kwilsk


  • hooks, bell, The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators. South End Press, 1992.

  • Mendieta, Ana, quoted by Best, Susan. “Ana Mendieta: Connecting to the Earth.” Institute of - - Modern Art,

  • Schneeman, Carolee, quoted by Breitweiser, Sabine. “CAROLEE SCHNEEMAN.” Artforum,

  • Spivak, Gayatri, Can the subaltern speak?, Macmillan, Basingstoke, 1988.