project image
Bryan Hewitt

first performed on September 2, 2011
Flag Stop Art Fair, San Francisco, CA
performed three times in 2011


Jack Leamy (painter)

San Francisco, CA


“A Gift of Exorcism” is one manifestation of the larger identity, post-colonialism, and existential performance project called “Self-Portrait by the Other,” which has been made in public twice and in private once, first at the Flag Stop Art Fair in Torrance, CA, and once at Ever After, an exhibition curated in a columbarium/mortuary in Oakland, CA.

The project involves binding my head in Vet-Wrap hospital gauze and having a painter create a portrait of me on my own face. When the mouth is covered the paint hardens and prevents breathing so I cut my mouth open with a knife. Concurrently, I give a spoken word performance while the mask is being painted. At the end of the performance I am carried or lead out of the performance space by the painter. The mask is cut off my head after the performance and saved as a sculptural object and archived as the identity of that moment.

The problem this piece is designed to address is the status of hybrid identity through the lenses of post-modernism and especially post-colonialism. I devised this performance structure and choose painters to paint my portrait in order to reference the variability of identity today, how it is a cultural construct, and how all identity is an amalgam of not only the subject’s histories and cultures but also those of the people around him/her. In this way identity is not only reflexive but reflective of its environs and contexts, and the gaze becomes a tool of self-expression, trans-culturation, and collaboration, as opposed to a tool of subjugation.

As an artist of mixed identity, mixed-race, and mixed cultures, I use this performance to focuses on creating a self-portrait mask that is easily removed. Consequently identity becomes slippery and temporary, coming on and coming off like clothing yet denouncing the frivolity and disingenuousness of the superficial, and reframing it as essential and vital. Since the performance requires bondage, sensory deprivation, and risks restricted breathing, it is a dedicated undertaking of endurance, often up to two hours long, with the goal to allow for the reconstruction of identity as a two-way street where the viewer has as much authorship of identity as the viewed.