SELFIE AND ITS POPULARITY: Henry Ofori, Digital painting (blue back paper), 60 x 80 in (152.5 × 203cm), 2016/17. Provenance- Property of the artist, currently on display at the Museum of Science and Technology, Accra in the exhibition, “Orderly, Disorderly”

A selfie is taking our own picture with our own camera. This is not new; it was being done almost 100 years ago.

We can trace it back to New York on December 1920 when five men all suited up and with (obligatory) hats on took a photograph while holding up at arm’s length, an antediluvian analog camera the size of a briefcase!

But if we want to think of a selfie as a self portrait, we can begin way back in the 16th century and then work our way to the 1980s.

For over 400 years, self-portraiture was the sole preserve of skilled artists- Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Kahlo, Picasso, Ben Enwonwu, Ablade Glover and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Almost everyone now has a smartphone. Today the selfie is linked to the “millennials”.

It is also linked to the “narcissist”- a word with a pejorative meaning and undertones of moral disapproval.

But is it fair/true/appropriate to consider a selfie taker as egotist instead of someone who has simply conformed to the prevailing culture?

Henry Ofori takes all these issues head on in this digital painting.

He depicts 12 faces in total in the triptych; the central panel has 10 faces and there is a single face in each of the other two panels.

The color scheme is vibrant and it immediately draws in the viewer.

All the faces are expressive almost all of them with exaggerated expressions. The majority appear to be young females with different skin shades, hairstyles and makeup.

The central panel has a border that tells us clearly the destination of the overwhelming majority of the selfies……social media.

Of significant interest is that one panel shows a Bugs Bunny styled selfie.

One cannot help recalling that a US appeals court is currently hearing a case to decide whether or not a monkey can own the copyright to a selfie.

The owner of the camera has insisted that the selfies were the result of his ingenuity in coaxing the monkeys into pressing the shutter while looking into the lens, after he struggled to get them to keep their eyes open for a wide-angle close-up.

Hopefully, none of Ofori’s depicted subjects faced these same problems with a photographer.

But when anyone can buy a stick to hold and schlep her phone to the right distance in order to take a photograph of herself with or without her tongue sticking out, or pouting lips, or of the new booty job, or a naked/bathroom selfie; men surely do not get a pass here…….is it all not a little coarse, eh?

Well, I think so and I have a nagging feeling that Ofori agrees with me.

Enough of the selfie and its popularity.

Nii B. Andrews


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