'Before they become a work of art, Diana Lui’s nudes are images of a body, but they are also the reflection of the social environment the model belongs to as well as of the history that has formed its identity to the point that the mere image of the nude is so strong, a name associated with it becomes unnecessary. We are not faced with the concept of identity in the way a government office would define it: passport size photograph, name, age, citizenship. The nude body that is revealed here, in part of whole, often has a complex history that cannot be reduced to mere informational data, rather by a few “biographical themes” or “biographèmes"–a term used by Roland Barthes–that help put together a story. We understand quickly that Diana Lui has selected people floating in a certain transit, in travels, in encounters, the type of people who live a roving life and only land momentarily at the end of long and curious journeys. Do these young women simply undress physically or through their discourse? Although it speaks highly of the art of the nude, laying bare one’s body does not disclose much in terms of identity, nor do the few excerpts of biographical notes.
The real source of identity in this paradoxical unveiling is in the eyes, their expression, their gaze that Diana Lui’s artistic treatment of the image and quality of the portrait lead us to. The gaze can be tense like a dart ready to strike, but also be a shield to protect the thoughts and sensibility of a defenceless model left there in a delicate yet sensual state of abandonment. Nature’s diversity in body shapes and forms are clearly visible in the flesh. Yet, not one body resembles another, even if a certain and fragile grace created by the art of photography, links them together. The eyes however all speak to us, they look at us to reveal a thought or an emotion. But those darts and shields are in fact a decoy; they’re not there to frighten us away but on the contrary to pull us into an interior world.'
— Anne Biroleau (Curator, 21st Century Photography Department, Bibliothèque Nationale de France)
The feminine beyond is a photographic and artistic exploration of today’s feminine identity dealing specifically with two themes: the nude and the veiled. Far from being a feminist criticism on society, these photographs seek to re-define our notion of identity, more specifically the 'identity' beyond all identities, the inner and original self within us when first born into this world: the primordial self. As an artist with multiple ethnic, cultural backgrounds and nationalities, the belief in the existence of the inner primordial self is essential to my research on our contemporary identity today.
Throughout history, the body has been mythified, sacrificed, sanctified, idealised, objectified and modified. The woman’s body in my day and age has continued to be idealised, treated as an object of desire and subjected to transformation whether through clothing, make-up, dieting, extreme exercise, plastic surgery, tattooing or piercing. With the onslaught of globalisation, the female body has become more and more homogenised, giving room only for a few possibilities to be an accepted ideal body type.
The series of women portraits posing nude in closed intimate spaces or outdoors in nature is part of my research regarding the female body and identity for the last 20 years. Having begun with self-portraits in the late 1980s, my search for identity as a young woman with a multiple-cultured background grew into a more universal search. The female body has never truly belonged to the woman herself as an individual but as an idealised form to mould herself to. My research is centred on returning women back to their original bodies, hence their original selves or the inner primordial self. I prefer to call these portraits 'naked' portraits of women individuals rather than 'nude portraits'. The state of being 'nude' has always been dressed up to fit the latest trends in civilisation whereas the state of being 'naked' presents the body as it is, without any preconceptions of beauty or what is accepted by society.
In aesthetic contrast to these naked portraits, I have begun a photographic research since 2009 on the diverse and rich symbolic meanings the veil possesses and how it is worn by different people from different cultural backgrounds today. Inspired by the obsessional photographic work on women’s costumes in Morocco by famous French psychiatrist Gaëtan Gatian de Clérambault (1872–1934) and through a personal documentation of the recurring semantical structures of the veil, I am seeking to unmask the very essence of its multiple meanings, possibly finding the 'essential or universal veil', hence giving clues to our complex existence.
The meticulous and intuitive process of photographing these women with a large format camera is not so much a capturing of the moment as it is an exchange of experiences, intimacy and trust between artist and model where it is revealed that inner self. These portraits whether naked or veiled, show women for who they simply are, and in this simplicity and essentiality, there surfaces an untainted, natural aura of the divine. These portraits are modern icons of today, offering infinite ways and possibilities of being and mutating. Unlike the female icons of the past, these modern icons offer the possibility of freedom from past taboos and expectations. These portraits give women the possibility to re-possess their body once again, and in photographing them and exhibiting them, enhance and perpetuate their individuality. Rich, complex and unique, each woman and her body are transfigured, making her whole, truly feminine and beyond.
— Diana Lui
Press release courtesy Galerija Fotografija.