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Dareos Khalili

Visual artist & film director

Dareos Khalili, a selection of images from his series "to Cover the Silence".

Q: How do you reveal identity in a portrait?

A: See, the thing is that I’m not sure I revealed the identity of my models for ‘to Cover the Silence’. But a little bit of context may be helpful; the project started many years ago as a need for me to meet people and connect in an intimate, non-sexual way. The book version of ‘to Cover the Silence’ is a goodbye letter to my first love, and - for lack of a better word - a poetic recount of what happened after he left. In this context, what I looked for in the portraits were two things; first of all, physical traits, colour palettes, skin textures, postures, eyes - all of the things that, combined, would in the end solidify my memory of him. The second thing I looked for was a self-portrait, made within my portrait of the other. (I remember that at the same time I was working on a series of actual self-portraits that ended up remarkably bad!) So, in the context of this particular project, my end goal was to create a timestamp of my own identity by “moulding” my models after my own internal state and by placing them in surroundings that had qualities drawn from my specific perception of space.

Q: Could you describe your least successful portrait?

A: Pretty much every self-portrait I have made in school. All of them suck big time, they are hidden in a box somewhere in my hometown with a self-inflammatory device connected to the lock, so that if someone finds them, the box will burst into flames. And the reason they do not work is, one, because I do not enjoy my own presence, two, because at the time I had no clue who I was or what it was I wanted to say and three, because I tried too hard to photograph like some of my favourite photographers. They were cheap, poorly conceived imitations of Francesca Woodman’s self-portraits (the audacity!). I do love them though because they taught me what not to do and led me to try to make self-portraits using others instead of myself.

Q: How does the construct of identity influence self-portraiture?

A: I think identity is a process of continuous self-definition. In this context, many aspects of your identity become performative, and this performance serves multiple purposes. Sure, some are detrimental to one's individuality but I also think the performative aspects of self-identification can serve the purpose of finding one’s true self. For example, I may not be brave, but by consciously choosing to perform acts of bravery I am working towards constructing that part of my identity. So I guess, in that context, one can use self-portraiture as a tool of self-reflection and self-construction, by projecting parts of who they want to be onto the picture, instead of who they are right now.

Q: As a portrait maker, do you discover and reach out for someone to portray, or do you let the portrayed person come to you?

A: I do approach the people I wish to photograph mostly, but I am also very indecisive when it comes to finding the right people to photograph. It takes a lot of time - from wanting, to doing it. Usually, I get an urge to photograph somebody for some very superficial reason and I let it boil down for a bit. I observe the person for a long time and, in the process, I recognize that this first, superficial impulse is actually not superficial at all. For example, I may be first attracted to the way someone - I don’t know - smokes, let’s say, but through closely following this intuition it may be revealed to me that what I’m intrigued by is the way their thoughts are drawn on their face while they smoke. And from this, another observation may come about something one layer deeper, and so slowly I can go to the core of what vibrated with me in the first place. If there is something important there, that’s when I ask; if there isn’t, I don’t.

Q: Thesis: in the current way of living, the artist is indirectly asked to also assume a digital, 2D identity. My work, for example, shows a lot of bare skin. But that is against the guidelines of many social media platforms because a lot of skin in an image is deemed explicit or sexual. I wonder how I can exist digitally as an artist if this guideline generalises the way of looking at unclothed bodies. Not everyone looks at bodies in a sexually objectified way. How do you feel about this digital trend?

A: I feel that we have allowed Instagram to define the way we work a bit too much. I am not posting very frequently on Instagram and it is a struggle. I do not have an answer to your question but I do want to say that I think in some decades, art historians will be speaking about the period of the algorithm, when aesthetics, art and success was defined by it. Which is a reality that we either choose to work with or not. You don’t need to exist digitally as a content-producing machine for Meta. I think the best approach is to exist in the real world first and use the digital space as a trace of your IRL work. At least that’s what I wanna work towards, and what I see works for many of my favourite artists. Plus you can always go crazy on your website!


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