Seven suitcases are lodged on the doorstep of my Parisian studio. Norah, their owner, is a homeless sex worker. At times I perceive from inside my studio her shadow or her silhouette through the frosted window.
“This evening Norah is in front of my door, to spend the night there as usual. I exchange a few words with her. I say to myself that I’ll show her the portraits I painted of her, but I feel bad, showing her these portraits that will stay inside, nice and warm, while she herself is going to stay outside. Are painted representations more important than the actual person? All this seems so absurd, so disheartening for me … although she has always refused other help from me and she seems just happy to spend her nights in the sheltered space in front of the studio … and to feel respected.” ( Excerpt from studio journal, November 30, 2015)
Increasingly acute questions about the relationship between art and society. I would have liked to act, but impossible. I feel like the protagonist of Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s film The Square. A director of a contemporary art centre who, while becoming aware of the distress of the poor, is unable to act differently. It is the socio-economic system that defines the rules of the game.
Another, even more profound ambiguity is the use in artistic creation of subjects concerning socio-political disorders. Difficult to give these works the appropriate place: when they come out of anonymity, it is most often for the art market, so losing their real force to question and more, benefiting a system that creates and ratifies the exclusion of people like Norah.
Guy Oberson, personal notes.
“The relationship to the identity of the being portrayed is undoubtedly linked to artist Guy Oberson’s worship of photography. Whether published in a book or a personal snapshot, photography awakens and triggers the process of imaging, acting as an instrument of remembrance or, on the contrary, distancing from immediate reality1. Like Norah, a homeless woman photographed in front of the artist’s Paris studio, whose portrait has been worked into a magnificent oil on canvas, and drawings of astonishing strength. Does the passage through the artist’s studio and the mediation by photography alters Norah’s individuality? The magic of her portrait lies in the complex conjunction between the biological body, the social identity and the personality of the being. Norah has a name and a personal story that representation alone will not authenticate. In her stretched white dress, minimalist adornments, the woman seems discreet, folded in on herself, yet her eyes defy ours. The face-on representation directs attention to the face, the solemn and dignified attitude of the model. The brightness and severity of the features shaped with oil and black chalk compose an unusual, captivating personality. Norah looks at us and projects herself into our own gaze. Her presence is moral, she instructs the gaze, constructs the perception through the eye of the artist and contemplation, the gratitude we return to her.”
Dora Sagardoyburu, Art historian
From « Guy Oberson – Le corps radiographié » (The X-Rayed Body)
Text published in « Zones poreuses, carte blanche à Guy Oberson », Gallery C, Neuchâtel, 2016