Le Secret, Archival Pigment Print, 20 x 30 inches, 2017
Perform La Femme
On view at Art Room January 15 – February 28, 2019
Artists, Angilee Wilkerson and Jana C. Perez have been creating and exhibiting work collaboratively for over seven years. Most recently they were invited to participate in the “Lang Jiangshan Cup” 2nd China, New Picturesque Biennial 2018 and the 2018 International Photography Festival. In 2017, the duo was selected for an artist residency in La Macina San Cresci, Chianti Italy, where they continued to work on their series of self-portraits, Perform La Femme. Active in the fine art community, both artists have served together on the board of the Women’s Caucus for the Arts as Co-President and Vice President and have over 10 years of teaching experience at the university level. Both Angilee and Jana currently hold professional art positions at different institutions.
Angilee Wilkerson holds an M.F.A. in Photography and a minor in Intermedia. She is an artist, educator, professional photographer and serves as creative director at the University of North Texas. Her work frequently examines memory, female identity, and the nature of alteration through landscape. In particular she is interested in the vanishing grasslands and thickets found in and near the Blackland Prairie and Cross Timbers of northern Texas and southern Oklahoma. Wilkerson’s work has been honored by jurors from The New Museum of Contemporary Art, NY; The Guggenheim Museum, NY; The George Eastman Museum of Photography and Film, NY; and others. In addition, her photographs have been featured in many publications, including The Photo Review; Photo District News, Photographer’s Forum; and The Wall Street Journal.
Jana C. Perez holds an M.A. in Graphic Design and an M.F.A. in Photography with a minor in graphic design. She is an artist, professional graphic designer and photographer. Influenced by her background in advertising, much of her fine art utilizes the mechanics of language and image to communicate personal and humorous reactions to advertised ideas of female identity and beauty. Perez’ work has been featured nationwide including at The Houston Center for Photography, Woman Made Gallery in Chicago, Art Basel Miami, and at The Fitton Center for Creative Arts. Perez has presented and published research at The 7th Annual Hawaiian International Conference on Arts and Humanities, National UCDA Design Education Summits, Texas Association of Schools of Art [TASA] and The International Conference on the Image.
The artists would like to thank both The Puffin Foundation and The Department of Visual Arts, Texas Woman’s University for their generous support.
The Interchange, Archival Pigment Print, 20 x 30 inches, 2017
Perform La Femme is a photography project that delves into the psychological states and cultural interpretation of female identity; the work uses posture and performance to deconstruct persona and empower the female story. This series is a collaboration between two artists who enact roles; performing in partnership and using their own middle-aged bodies as models to emphasize the dualities and entanglements in their lives as women.
Rather than feature the stereotypical young female influenced by the male gaze, we provide a rich and complex narrative about female camaraderie and experience. These photographic tableaus are expressed in a range of environments and atmospheric lighting where recurring color palettes serve as metaphor for emotional and physical states of being, body gestures read as code and objects within each scene hold symbolic meaning. The artists take on a myriad of enigmatic characters as narratives, simultaneously Delphic and revealing, emerge.
In finding commonalities and differences within personal experiences, the artists create a stage where camaraderie empowers a shared voice. Similar in some ways to the child-like play of “dress up”, each scene transports both artists to a state of imagination where both find the freedom to act out an evolving story. This collaborative act and its surrounding tasks allow for a deeper, communal understanding of life as both women and artists. Becoming each other’s muse and teacher—all under the gaze of the lens—Perform La Femme deconstructs cultural ideals and empowers experiential knowledge of female identity within a predominantly patriarchal society.
The full collection of images may be viewed at www.performlafemme.com.
The Pier, Archival Pigment Print, 20 x 30 inches, 2017
Deedra Baker: Perform La Femme is a photography project that has been created over the course of several years. Can you share with us how your collaboration as artists began and how it has evolved over time?
Jana C. Perez: Our collaboration began while on holiday in Florida. My husband's family has a house near the beach that we all share, and I invited Angilee to come and stay one summer. My husband, Rolando, had already returned home, so it was like a big slumber party. One evening we were discussing feminism and the power of the female—especially with age, the power of the WOMAN over 40—and how we just didn't see those kinds of stories being told. So we decided to try collaborating, to tell our stories as a universal story of female through our experiences. The very next day, we started. We went to some second-hand stores, purchased some items, and then as the sun was setting a big storm was coming in. Angilee shot our first images of me in the storm light. And we began that way, seeing each other through the lens. Then later, we decided to get in frame together. And now we are always in frame together, less props, and more examination of the space between us and what we create psychologically in the space, and in turn, in the image.
DB: The setting of your photographs plays a big role in the overall story being told in each image. The winding roads and stairs draw in the viewer to go on a journey with the characters in the work, while the chiaroscuro lighting develops an emotional odyssey. How do the settings dictate the final image? What comes first, the setting or the story?
Angilee Wilkerson: Having focused the last 20 years of my artistic career on landscape photography, specifically the prairies of North Texas and Southern Oklahoma, environment is paramount in influencing the narrative for me. The intensity, subtlety or absence of colors, the rearrangement of flora by wind or breeze, the interplay of shadow and highlight inspires states of being that we translate to the emotional figure within the space. I often find environments and will send Jana phone pics of location ideas and possibilities of performance –this creates a chain reaction where Jana begins to sketch out ideas and expand even further on what might be done at this particular location.
JP: Sometimes both happen simultaneously, but many times, Angilee is on a walk by the lake and sees an awesome setting or area, and she tells me about it. Then we brainstorm via text, phone, I start sketching, and then we meet and try to create our vision in the space. Other times, I am inspired by something I have read or seen, and I will make a sketch of our actions, poses and have images that have inspired this idea. The inspiration can be paintings, advertising, almost anything. I share these with Angilee, and she suggests a place we can shoot at.
Her Tutelary, Archival Pigment Print, 20 x 30 inches, 2017
DB: Your photographs in this powerful body of self-portraits elicit a sense of play and ignite the viewer’s imagination. How important is it for each viewer to see his/herself in the images and develop his/her own narrative?
AW: Sometimes I discover myself in the work in ways that were not pre-conceived. I believe this discovery is inherent to the focused act of creativity—truths and philosophical questions begin to reveal themselves through the act of art making, it sometimes feels like these realizations lay dormant in the soil and only through tilling, turning and weeding can one be part of the mysterious thrill of emergence. In general, I would say this is how I work-- intuitively, inspired by the landscape and with an idea rather than a hard concept that searches for a space and a subject. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but this is what comes most naturally for me. The thrill of working with a dynamo partner like Jana is together we work intuitively, conceptually and playfully, inspiring and challenging the other while simultaneously melding our collective strengths into something that is unique to the partnership.
It delights me to hear a viewer may see herself in the work as this tells me we have created a tableau that is relatable to women, a shared experience, a common understanding, thus a recognition of the value of each other’s stories and emotional states of being.
JP: This is very important to us, and we have worked very hard to keep the images ambiguous enough so that many people can see themselves in this experience. And to make these emotions universal - often putting a visual to something only experienced, but never articulated.
DB: How does the feminine experience inspire the photographs in Perform La Femme? The work tells a new story about female identity from the perspective of middle-age women—a far too often silenced demographic. How do you think your age and maturity transform this world of female experience? And, how important is it that you as the artists are also the subjects of this project?
AW: As an older woman, we bring all of our many selves into the work, the young girls we once were, the women we are today, the women we are together and women we are continually becoming --all of these are great influencers in our work as is the female life, experienced in a society where female power is actualized in very different ways per decade.
JP: Well, I feel that seeing us rather than young, 20-ish women is a surprise, because that youthfulness is all we see in the world. So, when the viewer sees us, it sheds light on the fact that we are physically and mentally older and still beautiful and possess qualities that are typically only associated with youth. Also, I feel the wisdom we possess via life experience shines through in the images– it's solid and not fleeting and lends a presence to the image. Having us as subjects is very important to serve as witness to our message that women over 40 matter. And that we have the courage to age in the lens. The images also reveal the subtleties and strength of female camaraderie, something that is usually private.
The Cabin, Archival Pigment Print, 20 x 30 inches, 2017
DB: During your artist residency in La Macina San Cresci, Chianti Italy, you were very inspired by classical works in museums in Europe. What other sources inspire Perform La Femme; art, literature, culture, etc.?
AW: Cindy Sherman of course being the most recognized matriarch of the female self portrait kind of blew my mind when I first saw her work as a teenager—I marveled at the idea of looking at female stereotypes outside of the realm from which they typically performed in society. This visual approach allowed me as a young woman to ask myself why this role, why this uniform, why this manner etc.…
In terms of inspiration found on our residency—well, there was some degree of the Stendhal Syndrome that caught us both by surprise, Ha! Simply put we were surrounded by awe inspiring art and it infused deeply into our minds and the work we did on the residency, in particular, religion and sex were a constant expression and for me they were all manifested in the Madonna-- from her pre-Christian, Paleolithic reign as a Mother Goddess of fertility, power and wisdom to her divine humility as Our Virgin Lady, The Madonna. This was something we pursued in our works entitled, The Madonna, and Eve & the Maiden.
JP: Lots of things inspire us—this is a long list! Other photographers inspire us, a lot of classical painting, the Dutch Masters, advertising, things we see in social media. Articles and books, exhibitions that we see together. It can be a big thing or a small thing that sets us off on a journey of imagination.