A Loving Study of the Body: Born in Power artist Anique Jordan’s Darkie series

Anique Jordan. Darkie, (series of untitled), 2018. Archival prints, Collection of the artist.

Walking into Born in Power at the WAG, some of the first works you see are five images in a row, fragments of a nude body. From the ancient Greeks the nude figure has been declared the epitome of beauty. Famed art historian Kenneth Clark declared, “the nude is the most serious of all subjects in art.”

Its power stems from the fact that it can embody the most abstract of ideas: perfection, truth, horror, honour, or despair. In her work, Jordan uses the age-old genre of the nude to explore the idea of a tender encounter with the self.

As you take in the beauty of Jordan’s photography you may notice her gentle treatment of fragmentation. Close-ups of the artist’s leg, torso, and shoulder take up most of the frame as opposed to a unified image of the body. These are not the virile violent and astonishingly powerful bodily fragmentations of Francis Bacon’s paintings. Jordan’s fragments hold a power much softer. Where Bacon gives us moments of violent intimacy – the fragmented body or face of the male or female body, Jordan gives us intimacy of a different kind, a woman with her camera, alone. Her photographs explore the truth of a situation: to be alone with oneself and with tenderness, to accept one’s body with a searing intimacy.

Jordan recalls that she was experimenting with materials when she made these images, such as construction paper, and simple forms. She asked herself the question: “How dark can I make my skin look?” The result is an intense contrast between the rich dark tone of her skin and the startling sterile whiteness of the background. The effect is awe-inspiring. “The images are beautiful and easily consumed” she notes. But Jordan destabilizes the pure experience of the photographs’ retinal attraction with a conceptual jolt – the title of “darkie”. The darkest in her class, Jordan recalls how she was bullied and called, among other names, “darkie” and “tar.” As an artist, she is able to transmute that pain into power. These photographs show a woman aware of her beauty, aware also, evidenced by the title, that beauty is narrowly perceived as a specific shade of skin, a specific shape, and yet resisting those confines to look with love at her body.

The Darkie series is a personal work for an artist who has thoroughly engaged with communal themes of family, race, and ancestry. And yet by looking so specifically at her body she raises universal themes such as the nature of self-compassion, tenderness, and acceptance. Among the questions she outlined for herself were “What is it like to pay close attention to the body?”; “What is a loving study of the body?” These images engage with those questions in a brilliant, refreshing way.

Born in Power is on view at the WAG until Summer 2021. Stay tuned for digital programming supported by Safe at Home Manitoba including the #auntielens series of talks with community leaders.

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