Death of an Icon

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“Works in this series, dramatize the life of this iconic image in the age of “mechanical reproducibility,” as theorized by Walter Benjamin.

Repose: The image of Mona Lisa is split sideways, and placed alongside are the familiar aspects of repose: an open book, and a teacup. Hands crossed in quite reflection, the fragments of the original coexist with objects signifying memory and fantasy—the spider hovering around looking for a spot to start building its web.

The Heraldic Mona Lisa: Literally incarnated as the antlered goddess of ancient Europe—who was later demonized as the devil by the medieval Church—her head is half submerged in the collective consciousness, with ants circling it. The surface around is thick, gluey, that is slowly engulfing her: a divine figure in Greek mythology, associated with wilderness, sexuality and the life cycle, this image marks the end of that collective fantasy of renewal.

The Original and the Reproduction. This image literally embodies Walter Benjamin’s theory of “aura,” where the original and the reproduction tussle over ascendancy in the age of democratized art. Stacked in a drawer, the original is cast in its miniaturized visual precision, standing out against the spectral image of the original that still occupies most of the space in the frame.

Unmasking: Mona Lisa with the mask of Frieda Kahlo: Kahlo’s turbulent life has been anesthetized by being turned into a mask to be held by the same hands that were in quiet repose in the first image of the series. In this picture Mona Lisa also has become the bearer of her long history—as the original Lisa Gherandini, the wife of the Florentine aristocrat Francesco del Giocondo, whose portrait by Da Vinci was acquired by Francis I of France, and now displayed at the Louvre. The atmospheric illusionism of the original has been replaced by a wall-papered background, highlighting Mona Lisa’s domestication as an object in a bourgeois drawing room setting.

The Keys to the Enigma: This literally materializes the enigma that is Mona Lisa by representing the multiple keys to her mystery, while still retaining part of the mask. The painting also shows the effects of unmasking as re-masking.”

Essay by Anindyo Roy
Anindyo Roy is Associate Professor in English and teaches critical and postcolonial theory, postcolonial African, Caribbean, and South Asian literatures as well as early twentieth-century British literature. His essays have appeared in journals such as Boundary 2, Criticism, ARIEL, Women: A Cultural Review, Colby Quarterly, Mediations and Journal X. His book entitled Civility and Empire (Routledge: London and New York, 2005) is a literary exploration of the culture of civility operating in nineteenth and early twentieth-century British colonial society.   Among his many publications, is:
“Nationhood, Power, Identity.” Mediations 17.1(December 1992): 92-98

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