What a long way art has come. It’s been a part of the identity of the human race since we began. The Stone Age cave men used pictures to communicate with each other, and artwork has since then flourished alongside humanity.
In this day and age, both humanity and our artwork are evolving even further. Now our the building blocks of our personal identity, the very essence of what makes us who we are, is being used to create art.
This is being seen most keenly in the brave courageous pioneer of human rights, Chelsea Manning. This transgender woman, born Bradley in 1987, gained the legal right to become “Chelsea” in later life.
She joined the army, her change of identity seeing her enduring the low-level taunts of her fellow soldiers. In 2009, she was deployed to Iraq, where she bore witness to classified information which she found deeply distressing, information which posed a threat to the lives of her fellow human beings. This led her to take great personal risk in sending what she found to WikiLeaks, which led to her own clash with the law when she was reported to the US Government by a hacker confidant. She was sentenced to 35 years’ imprisonment in 2013, until Barack Obama commuted her sentence, securing her release in May 2017.
Since then, Manning has campaigned vigorously for human rights, sharing her experiences in a column for the Guardian. More significant to the art world is the project Radical Love.
The name “Radical Love” is something of a juxtaposition as far as Manning herself is concerned. She disdains the word “radical”, finding it alienating. She places a greater value on the word “love” for its inclusivity.
The project’s aim is to explore gender identity using a process known as forensic DNA phenotyping. This is a process which produces a full-colour life-sized 3D printed “portrait mask” of a face, using the DNA of the subject to create a realistic likeness of their face. The process is increasingly being used by police to generate likenesses of their subjects.
Manning has been subjected to this process herself. Portraits of her face have been created using analyses of her DNA, taken from cheek swabs and heir clipping sent via the mail. There now exist realistic DNA-generated portraits of Manning’s face. Her own essence has gone into the creation of these portraits.
Manning’s involvement in the project stems from her own views on imagery. Her own experiences of prison has led to her realising how debased the human identity can be, with the imagery pertaining to humanity being almost completely erased within the prison environment. Manning has since used her freedom to ensure much stronger, healthier, more positive imagery relating to the human identity.
Perhaps the rest of us who can call ourselves free can follow this example. Maybe we can use our freedom, along with our creativity, to promote the best imagery of the human identity that we possibly can.
– Luke Mayo, Correspondent (Art)