Alba explores identity through various art forms

Elia+Alba+lectured+on+campus+earlier+this+week.+%28Courtesy+of+Wikimedia+Commons%29.

Elia Alba lectured on campus earlier this week. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

Sadie Lebow

Sometimes confessional, other times subversive, yet always possessing a deft intimacy, Elia Alba explores her own identity through her art.

On Monday, she treated Lafayette to a discussion of that art, which typically consists of sculpture, textiles and photographs and usually concerns identity politics.

One highlight of the lecture was Alba’s discussion of “The Supper Club,” one of her more recent projects. Alba began the project in 2012 as a response to Vanity Fair’s “Hollywood Issue.” She began by photographing over 50 contemporary artists of color in individual portraits, and gave each each artist a moniker as a way to define them within the group. The result is a “who’s-who” of contemporary artists of color.

Alba expanded on the project by hosting dinners, in both formal and informal settings and inviting artists to discuss their work, race and issues of identity. Alba is now working to compile “The Supper Club” into a book.

“It’s not going to be straight transcripts,” she said. “I’ve gotten a writer, and I’m going to create narratives. So it will be like when you’re reading a magazine and reading a story of what happened.”

“The Supper Club project serves as a critical historical archive of this moment, documenting African-American, Latin American, African, South Asian and Caribbean artists as a collective group,” according to Alba’s website.

Her work extends far beyond just photography. One project she discussed experimented with textiles and sculptural work. Alba transferred images of her own body onto fabric and pieced these together as full suits. She then had men wear the suits, and in doing so, the men essentially wore elements of her identity. The suits looked like misshapen skin, cut and pieced together. The work proved powerful due to its ability to open a discussion about gender and race.

Alba also presented work that showed cross-over from her interests in her body suits. She explained that she began a photographic series titled “Pixies” out of an interest in Celtic culture and folklore. She dressed family members in large masks of Irish women with long, blonde wigs. The resulting images are surreal – gaping green eyes and silver hair set against a deep azul sky on models of color. The bodies which the masks are set on are clearly young in age, but the masks create a sense of ambiguity about the women’s identities.

Alba also spent time introducing work she created in response to 9/11. After the attack on the World Trade Center, Alba explained that New York was littered with images of missing victims. She began piecing these images together. She hoped to portray the diversity among the victims of 9/11 and counter a white-washed image of race in America.

“On the outside, there is the perception that the face of America is a white face, but there’s so much more than that,” Alba said.