Black Out: Silhouettes Then and Now

Princeton Univ. Jun. 2018. 192p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780691180588. $45. FINE ARTS
OrangeReviewStarIt's surprising that portrait silhouettes have not been the focus of a major exhibition until now. While the depiction of individuals in "shadow" goes back to ancient times, these works, primarily from the extensive collections of the National Portrait Gallery, embody an American sensibility as a democratic, accessible, means of portrait creation. (Until, of course, photography took over after 1839). The book serves as a catalog for the exhibition of the same name, with author Naeem, curator of prints, drawings, and media arts at the Gallery, including the work of four contemporary artists: Kristi Malakoff, Camille Utterback, Kumi Yamashita, and Kara Walker. These artists use concepts of silhouette, shadow, and identity to meet their own creative goals. Catalog entries provide rich historical context. Three separate essays detail the materials and techniques of silhouette creation and highlight the work of two exceptional artists: former slave Moses Williams and Martha Ann Honeywell, born armless, who worked with her mouth and toes.
VERDICT Readers will come away with a refreshed appreciation of silhouettes, both their significance historically but also their influence on today's artists whose art compels viewers to reflect on identity and its portrayal through time.
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