Posted by: kate m. | December 12, 2021

Exhibition Review | Pamela Tulizo: “Face to Face”

The first thought I had while thinking about photography exhibitions was the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP) in Paris. I’ve been very lucky to have visited Paris twice, and both times I’ve gone to this amazing photography museum; it might be my favorite museum, and I highly recommend it should you be in Paris.

I was completely enchanted by the photographs I saw in a forthcoming exhibit by a photographer I had never heard of: Pamela Tulizo. The MEP’s exhibit, “Face to Face,” doesn’t open till 2022, so I crossed my fingers that another exhibit of her work would be available elsewhere online. 

Tulizo won the 2020 Dior Photography & Visual Arts Award for Young Talents, where the theme of the competition was “Face to Face,” the exhibit had originally been presented on Instagram due to the pandemic, and is now available in certain art and fashion magazines, like V

“Face to Face” completely “flips the script” on the Victorian photographs and illustrations of citizens of countries suffering from war and famine that we’ve studied in class, which often showed the intense suffering of women and children. Tulizo, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, started her career in journalism prior to becoming a photographer. Her experience as a journalist was a factor in the inspiration to show women who are resilient while in difficult circumstances, who still maintain an interest in fashion, make-up, jewelry, and creating a personal aesthetic. 

Tulizo’s journalistic background reminds me of KJ Brown’s essay on Kevin Carter. Tulizo’s work is basically the opposite of Carter’s ethically controversial photographs of impending death. Her photographs, with women in bold and colorful outfits, are full of life. 

Other photographs in her collection address the issue of journalistic representation of African women. In the series, “Double identity (Women from Kivu),” a woman is “unzipping” half of her face as it reveals the logos for dozens of media outlets. This photo presents numerous questions to the viewer, asking them iif the media’s images of African women are artificial. If it’s false for a woman’s “unzipped” face to reveal media enterprises thousands of miles away, then what does that mean for people who consider those outlets to be sources of factual news?   

Another portrait from the “Double-Identité” series that shows the complexity of womanhood in Africa is one in which a woman is shown with half of her face and outfit dirty, covered in what appears to be soot, whereas in the other half, the outfit is clean, and that half of the woman’s lips are colored with pink lipstick. The left ear is an interesting detail, where it appears that there’s an expensive-looking earring, which is then attached to a chain of safety pins that go around the woman’s collar, and then upwards around the right side of her neck, the side of the portrait where the woman looks like she’s just been thrown into dirt. The safety pins going around the neck on this side is a visual reminder of bondage, yet the portrait also shows the safety pin chain as a fashion accessory. Her manicured fingernails and the position of her hands in the portrait is also contrasting, where the left hand has a kind of “vogue” gesture, while the right is over her abdomen, like she is protecting herself from the jacket being opened.

Tulizo’s award-winning exhibition also includes photographs where mirrors are used in a very empowering way. I was very excited about seeing the use of mirrors in her photographs, as I think mirrors are one of the most interesting items in an artist’s “back of tricks,” whether it be the end of Shakespeare’s Richard II, Jack Nicholson in Batman, or the last episode of Twin Peaks. In one of her “Double Identité” photos, we see a woman who is in a forceful pose over a mirror, a mirror with a bright orange trim, when the woman’s surroundings are very gray. She’s located on a street, the sky is gray, even the trees seem to be more gray than green. The image in the mirror shows the woman in bright pink scrubs, glasses, and a stethoscope around her neck. When I first saw this photo, I thought the image in the mirror was the woman in a complete hospital uniform, but when I looked at it more closely, she’s wearing a hospital scrub shirt but with ripped black jeans that are very punk rock. Is this a photograph that is “triple identity” rather than double? Is the woman seeking a future where she can have a multi-faceted identity where she works in a medical setting, and during her free time has a personal fashion style that involves ripped jeans?  I have absolutely no idea, which is one of the reasons why taking in these photos is a fun experience.

In the biography of Tulizo included in the introduction to her forthcoming exhibition, it’s mentioned her father was unhappy about her career choice, and that photography is a profession for men. To that end, her photographs of women who see themselves in the mirror as health professionals and construction workers is an act of personal rebellion. The MEP’s exhibition of her work will certainly inspire viewers to re-examine the visual representation of women in unfamiliar, faraway parts of the world, and who they really are.

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