Hall of Mirrors: Anne Zahalka Portraits 1987—2007 explores the thread of portraiture through the artist's prolific career, now spanning more than 20 years. Tampering with truth in representation, blurring the boundary between reality and fiction, Zahalka uses a variety of photo-media techniques. Incorporating photomontage, double exposure and darkroom trickery in her early images, she embraced Photoshop soon after its inception in 1990. Her practice has consistently enquired into the nature of image making and its relationship to the world around us. Through an assemblage of cultural symbols and art-historical references, Zahalka questions what a portrait can actually tell us about someone, and highlights photography's ability to command, distort or deny the truth. With acute observation and an ironic voice, Zahalka cleverly subverts stereotypes, capturing subcultures and a spirit of the times.
Zahalka's portraits address issues of identity, gender and representation. Acknowledging photography as a tool of propaganda, she investigates how culture can be constructed and nationhood defined through images. Zahalka often appropriates or re-stages iconic images or simulates period styles. Bright, seductive and hyperreal, her images appear both strangely familiar and yet surprising.
Zahalka foregrounds the constructed nature of portraiture. For example, her series Woven Threads presents each image in three varied versions, demonstrating different possible readings. In other series, she casts her subjects before overtly painted backdrops or seamlessly conflates anachronistic elements within a single image, altering the world as we know it. But not without warning. A lemon, half peeled with rind dangling seductively from a table a well-known still life motif indicating the deception of appearances; beautiful to look at, yet sour to taste is used repeatedly in the Resemblance and Resemblance II work¹. For the artist whose work so often reminds us of our tendency to generalise people into types, the warning of deceptive appearances could be indicative, not only of her approach to portraiture, but also admonitory counsel for everyday interactions.
Curated by Karra Rees
¹ Merryn Gates, 'Some Contemporary Copies', re: Creation/Re-creation the art of copying 19th & 20th centuries, Monash University Gallery, Melbourne, 1989, p. 41.
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