In a new series of life-size drawings, the Baltimore-based artist Zoë Charlton uses the concept of the doppelgänger to examine issues of in/visibility in our current society. The doppelgänger has been interpreted somewhat differently over time, from the “spirit double” in ancient Egyptian belief, to a “double walker” in German literature, to a “twin stranger” in the current popular vernacular. Born with a twin brother, Charlton has long been interested in look-alikes and the idea of someone—or something—as a “stand in” for another person. A case in point, The Ipseity Project was inspired by an African female sculpture that Charlton acquired from an antique store four years ago and has since referred to as her “body double” or, more fondly, “Sib.” Attributed to the Bangwa people, the five-foot-tall sculpture is Charlton’s exact height and has other physical likenesses to the artist. In Charlton’s definition, “a doppelgänger can be historical or ancestral—someone who has similar histories of being culturally appropriated or who embodies you but isn’t exactly the same.” Installed at the center of The Ipseity Project exhibition, Sib represents questions that underlie Charlton’s new drawings: Where do we see our individual identities reflected in visual culture? How does that reflection (or the lack of it) shape our sense of self and sense of place in the world? How do the traditional figures in Western art history influence ideas about who belongs in art now?
Wanda D. Ewing tackled similar questions in her work and, as recipient of the second annual Wanda D. Ewing Commission, Charlton was drawn to Ewing’s explorations of selfhood, or ipseity, and how we come to understand ourselves through images of people who share in our identities and experience. In previous works, Charlton, like Ewing, has examined the assertion of self within a culture where affirming Black women is considered a radical if not aggressive act. With The Ipseity Project, Charlton pushes these ideas further, exploring what happens when her body is the point of departure for a body of work that invites participation by people with similar physical characteristics, but from a range of backgrounds and cities. What bearing does affinity with another’s physical form have on our capacity for empathy? How does the culture of a place affect who is seen and who is not? Where, exactly, does the artist draw the line between self and subject? Continue reading >>