Misia-O’ Talks about sacred geometry, metaphysics and her upcoming exhibition at les Rencontres d’Arles
Main Image: “Double Orchid” from “Different Shades Of Yellow” by Misia-O
Fresh from winning the Prix du Jury at le Salon des Beaux Arts for her photographic series ‘Different Shades of Yellow’, Misia-O’ will be exhibiting her latest series ‘Different Shades of White’ at Circa Gallery in Arles as part of les Rencontres d’Arles.
Lee Sharrock spoke to Misia-O’ about her series of photographs which explore identity and challenge the stereotypes and perceptions relating to different skin tones. With the ‘Different Shades of…’ series, Misia-O’ is seeking a global vision of identity and unification through her photography. She explores the essence of our being inspired by humanist philosophy, infused with an interest in the incredible architecture of our genes.
Lee Sharrock: Could you tell me where the name Misia-O’ comes from, and whether you will ever reveal your identity?
Misia-O’: My artist name is partially inspired by Misia Sert, her salon and her role in La Revue Blanche. A remarkable woman, Misia was a pianist trained by Litszt. An artistic genius, she hosted a famous artistic salon in Paris and was the patron of many artists, including Sergei Diaghelev. Both a Nabi and fashion muse in Paris, she was immortalised by artistst including; Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, Bonnard and, Vuillard. Her salon helped many artists around her shine in the limelight. La Revue Blanche, an art and literary magazine, belonged to her then husband – Thadee Nathanson. The avant-garde magazine (1889-1903) celebrated artists, poets, dramatics alike and became a voice for the Intelligentsia. Misia was a very modern woman – visionary and embracing the experimental in the art world with insights which would take years for society to achieve.
An artist’s name is chosen for a reason. It does reveal your artistic influences and part of your identity by its very choice. If anything, it is more revealing than your day to day ‘identity”.
Lee Sharrock: ‘Different Shades of White’ is the latest in a photographic series exploring identity and challenging the stereotypes and perceptions relating to different skin tones, seeking a global vision of identity and unification. Could you talk me through the series, starting with ‘Different Shades of Black’, and explain what your starting point and process was for each series?
Misia-O’: Different Shades Of Black started with a single picture: ‘Diver’. The beautiful back of Maia facing an orange wall. Shot in the South of France on a hot summer day, with the window wide open, the light hit her back showing blue hues. There is no post-production on her skin and on the blue colour (you can even see it on her fingers). Maia and I looked at my camera viewfinder, and were awe-struck by the colour created by the light on her skin. I presented this very picture to CirCa Gallery in Arles. Marianne, the gallerist, fell in love with it and asked me to create a whole series on Maia, which she would exhibit – if she liked it. I started researching the effects of light on so-called skin colours and discovered quantum physics, which I started to study.
Light frequencies affect our perceptions of colours, and the subsequent variants that may or may not derive from it. I also decided to look into arts, literature and philosophy. An anthropological attempt to understand how humankind is one, and yet why we carry on labelling various ethnic groups wrongly. For instance, to talk about race is not only absurd but wrong. Race does not exist in science nor in biology. It is a human construct, which was born to purposely divide humanity and create concepts of supremacy on several continents. Worst, it is associated with ‘perceived skin colours’.
Ultimately, our very own humanity derives from ethnic groups that migrated over and over to various continents and had to adapt to their living environment be it freezing or scorching hot (hence our pigmentation etc.) like the fauna and flora had to adapt. Our morphological, genetic constitution and culture is where differences occur. Not our ‘skin colour”.
My research turned into a massive body of work. The history of colour (and non-colours) in science, art, literature etc., their different symbolism in various cultures, and their very components and hues. I was astounded at how powerful light affects what we actually see. I decided to play with light on Maia’s skin: daylight, night light, in different locations both outside and in the studio. My body of work highlights (no pun intended) how the non-colour black can look red, blue or even yellow. Black is perceived to be the absence of light. Yet, in line with the infamous and wonderful painter Soulage, black to me is made of light insofar as it is both reflective and matt (unreflective) and contains many hues of red, blue and yellow revealed by the same very light. I also researched elements of nature which would be cohesive to the subject and to my model. I chose bright and vibrant exotic bird feathers from various African countries, and shot them as dyptiques to reveal the connection and similitudes in colour, presence and texture that nature offers us. Ultimately, we as humans are part of nature and tend to accept its diversity and beauty more than the diversity and beauty of our very humanity. Thus ‘Different Shades Of Black’ was born.
‘Different Shades Of Yellow’: I applied the same approach in researching this series, aiming again to celebrate the beautiful diversity and hues of our perceived skin tones. I adapted my still lifes to the serenity my model exuded, reflecting her calm nature and culture. It is important to me to remain faithful to my model’s energy, authenticity and culture, which is more powerful and relevant than the actual tone of her skin. Yellow is made of green and red. In this series, I used yellow and red orchids as still life, echoing the delicacy and hypnotic serenity of my model and her culture. The series shows how her skin can be porcelain or tanned, anything but actually ‘yellow’.
‘Different Shades Of White’: Funnily enough, when I announced this series, several of my collectors looked at me bemused…”White” they said “But why?” – to which, stunned, I replied “But why not? “ “Well..white is…boring…!” I am fascinated by our perceptions, which are so deeply ingrained in stereotypes even among the most educated of us. Short cuts are so much easier to manage somehow. And since my work is not political but anthropological, it confuses people who associate “yellow” and “black” skin colours …with racism, which is not the purpose of my work here. Why should ‘colours’ solely be perceived as being a political subject?
My work here, like a painter, is to celebrate our many hues in the sense nature intended it to be, in an anthropological and poetic way. So yes, of course white not only matters but is as relevant as my other series. Again, the same amount of research was involved, in art, history, science, with mother light as my sole guide. This series echoes the mineral nature of the shape and essence of my model. Here, I focussed on the golden ratio and sacred geometry, echoing the intricate architecture of our body, our genes and still lives such as my shell skeleton: logarithmic spiral .
Lee Sharrock: You’ve been quoted as saying ‘It’s much more than our skin colour that defines us, it’s our sacred geometry’. Can you explain what you mean by that sentence, and how ’sacred geometry’ relates to your work and its themes?
Misia-O’: 1.6190476 – this is quantic and abides by universal laws. From microscopic to cosmic scale, it is a constant in nature which unifies space, time, matter, energy, information and our consciousness. Quantum mechanics and the golden ratio (Phi) appear in black holes and in our very DNA.
Phi appears in nature: flowers, shells like the ones I shot (logarithmic spiral which shows a gnomonic growth) only the size changes while the shape remains the same. and in our human bodies as shown in Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Vitruvian man. Our bodies are designed and structured by sacred geometry: our umbilical cord is a Fibonacci spiral and our organs are gnomonic. Fibonacci numbers are represented in our very human parts to allow for a seamless engineering and function of our bodies. Finally, the DNA molecule, the program for ALL life is based on the golden ratio – a universal constant which is therefore self-replicating in our one single humanity.
It is also metaphysical and as such, spiritual for me.
Sacred geometry is my constant in my series “Different Shades Of” since I unite objects of nature (still life) with portraits, thus reflecting the obvious similarities in colours, shapes, and geometry of our ‘outer’ shell as humans. Despite changes in the hues of our perceived colours, the actual design of our humanity is based on sacred geometry and is the same for all humans. We are one and the same.
Metaphysics (which is quantic) inspired so many artists, including the Surrealists (who celebrated psychic and started practicing automatic writing).
Lee Sharrock: The ‘Different Shades of Yellow’ series was awarded the Prix du Jury by the Salon des Beaux Arts recently, which was created in 1861 by a group of iconic artists including Rodin, Delacroix and Manet. Since you only began your photographic career a few years ago, are you surprised at how quickly your work has won critical acclaim?
Misia-O’: I sure was not expecting this jury prize! The lovely Director called me to tell me I won. I was stunned. Then I started jumping up and down – a bit hysterically. I am so happy and grateful! It is true I began my photography career a few years ago, but I was already a creative – an interior architect for several years, and a graphic designer taught me to research concepts, structure them and execute them under one strong creative direction with a fabulous team. I totally credit my amazing team for each series I shoot. It is about teamwork: my magical assistant, my hair and makeup artist, my model, my fine art printer. They each understood the concept and added to the creativity.
Lee Sharrock: ‘Different Shades of White’ will be exhibited at Circa Gallery in Arles during les Rencontres d’Arles this summer. What does it mean to you to exhibit at les Rencontres, one of the most respected photographic festivals in the world?
Misia-O’: Arles is unmissable if you want to start your career as a photographer. It is the biggest photography festival in the world, attracting international professionals, curators, collectors etc..
I have been exhibiting in that city since 2017. This is how my first series Trans-it-I-on became a finalist in ‘les Voies Off’ in 2017, and was thereafter discovered by the French Ministry of Economy who commissioned my exhibition in Bercy. It was a crazy amazing experience when I had to do a speech in a massive Ministerial room. So, at first I exhibited in Les Voies Off Festival, running alongside Les Rencontres de la Photographie, then with Arles Contemporain last year (Les Rencontres were cancelled due to Covid) as my gallerist is a member there. This year, because of my Jury Prize, I am featured in ‘l’Ete Arlesien’ in the programme of Les Rencontres. I am delighted.
Lee Sharrock: What camera do you use for your photography, and do you work in a studio?
Misia-O’: I use different cameras but I am very fond of Fuji XT series and Canon – my first cameras. I shoot in studios mostly, although some frames were shot outside or in homes in ‘Different Shades Of Black’. I shoot with my lovely team and also alone.
Lee Sharrock: When I look at your photographs, in particular the way you depict the nude female form in such a sensitive manner, it occurs to me that you are counteracting the outdated ‘male gaze’ that is evident in so much of historical photography. Would you say that your work possesses a ‘female gaze’ that empowers the models you feature?
Misia-O’: Interestingly I hear that often. Well, my work is not about objectifying women. Instead I am shooting spiritual, intelligent human beings, and I want to celebrate the beautiful female form to echo the sensuality and poetry and the sacred design of the human shape found in objects of nature, mirroring the female shapes, skin texture and light. I guess since my models and I are always very connected, I tap into their authentic selves, and I allow them to reveal themselves the way they feel safe and comfortable with. I always share my pictures during the shoots with the model (and the rest of the team) and ensure my model feels happy, appreciated, respected, in control and elevated. In ‘Different Shades of White’, my model was not used to posing for a conceptual photo shoot and welcomed to be heard and respected during the whole shoot. She got very involved and suggested fabulous ideas too.
les Rencontres d’Arles dates: 6th July-25th September
Vernissage: Friday 9th July, 19:00
Opening times: Tuesday-Saturday: 10:00-12:30am and 15:00-19:00
Location: Galerie Circa, Arles, France