Mare Vaccaro

Mare Vaccaro, White Tie 2010, Digital c-print, 20 x 20 inches.

Mare Vaccaro: Multiple Personalities

March 24 - April 10, 2010

In 1987, the US Congress officially declared March Women's History Month. Institute 193, in conjunction with this period of pointed national discussion, presents Multiple Personalities, a solo exhibition by Mare Vaccaro. This exhibition focuses on Vacarro’s use of self-portrait photography and prop construction to explore evolving notions of feminity, beauty, adornment, and identity. Adorning her own body with elegant props, she creates subtly subversive images that question the power of costume, both as a tool for assimilation and a means for expressing individuality.

Vaccaro has alopecia universalis, a genetic condition that renders her body completely hairless. In a sense, this makes her a blank canvas—a “deconstructed” female figure—onto which she can project a number of identities. She constructs these personae using props made from materials that are traditionally associated with female gender roles: feathers, lace, ribbon. In some photographs, she incorporates the fashions of past eras, strapping on restrictive corsets and cage-like crinolines. In others, she wraps her head in translucent cloth in a manner that evokes the demure aesthetic of a Renaissance Madonna, but does not mask her baldness.

Much of the power of Vaccaro’s work comes not from these costumes themselves, but from her own uncanny physical presence. Her images are beautiful, but eerie; sometimes her face can appear startlingly alien. While she is certainly using apparel to create personae and unpack female stereotypes, she never disguises herself with makeup or prosthetics à la Cindy Sherman. In fact, she is doing the opposite.

Vaccaro spends most days in a form of disguise. To move through the world with some degree of normality, she wears a wig and paints eyebrows onto her face. In these photographs, she removes that disguise while simultaneously assuming new ones. Her work can read as a gleeful triumph of the individual over society’s expectations or a revelatory acceptance of its overwhelming pressure. Sometimes we can be in disguise even when we are exposed. 

 Mare Vaccaro, Secrets, 2010, Digital c-print, 20 x 20 inches.

Installation View

Installation View