Who are we? Who are we to ourselves, who are we to others? Who are we meant to be? Identity, whether self, other, or general, runs through our human lives like a constant itch, an itch that is never fully explored, never fully satisfied.
Is identity a series of ticked boxes, an amalgam of likes and dislikes? Is it a couple of eyes, a nose, and a mouth? Would we still exist as 'we', as 'you', as 'it' if they weren't there?
Artists have played with identity, unidentity and all levels between for as long as there have been artists. Visually, our face is our immediate identity, and countless generations of fine art portraiture have instilled in us a full sense of self that is rooted in a seemingly haphazard display of genetics that gives us certain types of eye, nose, mouth.
So if these elements of who we are as an identity, are obscured, obliterated, destroyed by an artist, can that identity still remain? Who are we beyond a face?
The artist BJ Broekhuizen explores these shifts in identity, in the muddling of the assurance of self. BJ is an artist that doesn't play with subtleties, with minor affectation.
There is no hiding of face with hand, no obscuring with plant or fan, BJ uses broad and brutal strips of raw paint that often obscure photos of individuals that stretch from head to foot.
It seems closer to obliteration of the concept of self, rather than a gentle obscuring. That deliberateness on behalf of the artist can only make you ponder more deeply as to what identity really is, where it arrives, where it leaves, where it hangs around and fills in the blanks.
When, for example, are we sexualised? When are we masculinised, when are we feminised? When are we neither, and who decides, us or our culture? When are we beautiful, when are we ugly? When are we bold and decisive? When are we a shadow, when are we deemed insignificant? When are we fire, when are we water?
BJ explores, through his work, all of these questions of identity and self, and many more besides. To question ourselves as individuals is to question our space in the world, our space in the cosmos. To question that, is to question the same for others. Who are they? Where is their space? What does their identity mean to me? Do I create that identity of 'other', or is it something already formed and projected towards me by that 'other'?
A mindfield of questions with no real solid answers, and nor should there be. An artist rarely gives us answers to anything, why should they? They ask the questions, they provide the space for those questions. How we understand and come to any form of conclusion, is up to us.
BJ doesn't produce bold proclamations, but he does produce bold questions. No one can shrug at his work, it begs some real deep-seated thought, it demands exploration, demands exclamations, demands going down to the human foundations and shouting "who the fuck am I?" and just as importantly, "who the fuck are all of you?"
Great stuff, important stuff. Thank the gods that we have artists like BJ to give us all a good shake/slap, to wake us up, get our head in gear, in order to ask those damned niggling questions that never get answered. It's what artists are there for, they are our conscience, they are our guide.