There is a deadpan humor to the work of Edson Chagas. He uses the most straightforward medium for capturing one’s identity — portraiture. However, through always covering the face, he never focuses on the model’s identity. Rather, those identities are disguised in favor of a commercial or cultural signifier. The shopping bag transforms the subject into an embodiment and commentary on consumerism. The African mask references stereotypes of African culture, performance, and identity. The masks, juxtaposed with the sitter’s contemporary clothing, feel absurd. Yet is the absurdity found in the out-of-placeness of the mask, or the blandness of the sitter’s only signs of identity (his clothing)?
Like Chagas, Keyezua is in the art of making portraits without revealing the face. Sometimes, as in it is a matter of putting another face on top of the sitter’s face. Yet the caucasian mask does not entirely hide the black sitter. Holes are cut for the sitter’s nose and lips and her exposed shoulders, neck, and hair are emphasized in contrast to the flat, turquoise background. These portraits are part of Keyezua’s larger exploration of black identity. In the video Beautiful People Know, a young woman sits before the camera braiding her hair and then braiding book pages into her hair. In the background, the audio of a hair commercial from the 70’s repeats. In each work, Keyezua draws attention to the unique beauty of her African subjects to emphasize the beauty of blackness.