The Masks People Wear – Wearing at Whitechapel

Gillian Wearing is a YBA (Young British Artist), she went to Goldsmiths and she won the Turner Prize in 1997, two years after Damien Hirst, but that is where the comparisons with him end.  The Whitechapel Gallery has ‘a comprehensive survey’ of her work on until 17 June which shows an artist constantly challenging herself, looking for new ways of interpreting the world around her. What she comes up with both inspires and disturbs. Wearing is fascinated by the masks people wear, by the discrepancies between the public and the private face. There is a warmth and humanity in her work that is entirely lacking in Hirst’s.

It is only when you get up real close that you see her series of self-portraits as other members of her family features intricate masks. There is a constant dissonance between layers of reality, whether it is the photographs of people holding up signs of what they are thinking, or the interplay between anger and affection in the unsettling Sasha and Mum. The video confessionals may be behind masks, but they tell the sad story of lives that have been shattered –many of them adults still struggling to cope with childhood abuse. Wearing’s masterpiece is 10-16, a video where she has placed the stories of children in the bodies of adults. Her mismatch never seems to be simply for its shock value, but rather an impassioned portrait of the heartache of our society, and in that way she has found a theme that could be mined endlessly without ever becoming repetitive.

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