The Sunday News
Modern technology and advancements in the social media era has seen the emergence of a new phenomenon known as the ‘profile pic’. Most social media provides a platform for owners of the account to show an image of themselves, or a symbol that represents them.
This has resulted in the emergence of what I see to be a new genre of artists. People have become extremely creative with the methods in which they perceive themselves and how they would like to be seen.
Enoch Chimbetete – Soul Master (mixed media) 2016
‘Profile pic – Alter ego’ Exhibition which was officially opened by Rashid Jogee, our guest of honour, on 1 December 2016 at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Bulawayo. This article revisits this theme of the ‘Profile Pic’ and reviews the extent society has evolved in relation to technology with an artistic view. I came up with the theme ‘Profile pic – Alter ego’ for an exhibition as a result of observing and being a part of this era of social media communication. Curating this exhibition was an incredible journey with the artists as we explored the diverse layers of meaning and function of a profile picture. The image or symbol used to represent the account user is crucial to both them and the viewer as it confirms the owner, what drives them and in some cases, how they feel. These profile pictures are used on Twitter, Facebook, tumblr, instagram and whats app, which are just a few of the many types of social media available.
I observed how these images have become an extension of the account user. The ‘alter ego’ is the alternative personality that a person assumes. I observed that the average person has actually become an artist as they may take “selfies” (self portrait photographs) of themselves and and edit them them to suit their desire. These images are thus used for basic identification of the account holder or to share one’s state of mind with their friends. Friends respond to an updated profile and give comments regarding the photograph. Some comments are pleasant, some are not and some comments are constructive. On social media such as Facebook, there is a section reserved for comments and a section to react by clicking an icon.
As an artist I realised that this was creating a platform for dialogue about the posted or updated profile pic. As artists we strive for our creations to arouse emotions and to stimulate conversation around the artwork. The artist, be it painter, sculptor, musician or poet, has always had the responsibility of initiating social commentary by creating an art form that will make people discuss and reflect on their existence and identity, leaving their creation to the interpretation of the viewer or public. This has become a very common feature on social media where people constantly update their profile pictures with the hope of communicating a thought or an idea.
Artists create so as to initiate dialogue about certain topics and this was what inspired me to curate the exhibition titled ‘Profile pic – Alter ego’. I identified a few artists from Bulawayo and Harare to participate and interpret further, from their perspective, the theme ‘Profile Pic – Alter ego’, the ‘Alter ego’ being the new profile or the alternative self that will be represented on the profile pic platform. Our vision of ourselves is determined by digital forces and the amount of likes or views. Africa is already struggling with catching up with its own eroded identity, how we view ourselves. Our perception of our selves has been altered and our view of the world is now through the lens of a camera or phone. Identity is questioned, challenged and redefined every day to suit the perceived mood. The work that is created by the artists has the same mission of sparking a thought or arouse a mood or communicate a state of mind. Our traditional profile pics were once our totems and symbols that defined who we were. Profile pics have a new meaning to us and it keeps redefining itself to us gradually. It becomes the “new you” represented after editing and selection. Our identity hangs in the balance of social media versus traditional life. Africans have been undergoing change for years and these changes have brought about layers upon layers of identity crisis. Our tangible heritage is slowly being substituted for a ‘virtual Heritage’ that we may never see, keep, teach, treasure for our future children.
Participating artists were Auntony Zinyange, Anusa Solanje (Harare) , Sky Solanje (Harare), Tinashe Vangani, Nomvuyiso Mabi, Wisdom Vangani, Talent Kapadza, Sibanengi Dube, Knox Chimbetete and Aubrey Bango, a whole range of incredible individuals including actresses, photo journalists, a dreadlock hair-stylist, painters and sculptors.
Photograph – courtesy of House of Menka. Remember, ‘Legalise Art’, promote, permit, admit, validate, legitimise, decriminalise, authorise, permit, make legal, make lawful. [email protected]/[email protected]