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In her new series of works Zohar Fraiman addresses the question of identity in the age of social media. What is the effect that social networks such as Instagram, Facebook or Tinder have on us and our self and how do we live up to the pressure of constantly having to self-stage, not to miss out on anything and to comply with certain roles?

Fraiman easily traverses through the (art) epochs, making use of image compositions of the old masters such as Vermeer, de la Tour or Ingres, hints at painters of classical modernism such as Balthus or Modigliani with regard to the aesthetics of the bodies or adjourns her protagonists with faces of Disney characters. Nevertheless, the “Swipe Sisters” don’t play cards as with de la Tour but are busy with themselves and their smartphones. Here, and also in the painting “Swipe“, one can find allusions to dating-apps and their set of rules, especially during lockdown times, when the digital identity played an even more crucial role as meetings took place rather virtually. The title of “Swipe” is a hint in itself – people swipe from one potential date to another. Oneself and the other are almost turned into a merchandise, which can be sorted out so that one can easily turn to the next new hot thing. In works such as “Weisswälder Kirsch- torte“, “Girl with a Pearl Necklace“ or “Thin, Long, Slices“ the women are posing, seem representable, yet are somehow lost and torn between culinary delights or the temptations of advertising and the ideal to be slim (such as Modigliani’s necks – or the super thin French Fries of Mc…). It is exhausting, always having to play a role and to stage oneself, but one needs to compete, even if to the point of complete exhaustion – as in “Minette and me“, “IRL“ or “FOMO“.

What is the impact on our identity, with our self when we constantly swipe and pose, indulge in obsessive self-staging through endless selfies, as the artist insinuates with her twofold, multiple or even empty faces? In her surreal like scenarios the border between reality and fantasy gets blurred. And what about the filtered pictures in social media, do they also blur the boundary between reality and online-reality regarding our identity?

Are we all playing theatre as Erving Goffman* constituted in his work of the same name in 1959? There, he describes self-promotion as an important part of the human existence. Of course, it is not new that we need and want to present ourselves in the best light. But today, the options for self-promotion are so much easier and more varied than ever before. Digital cameras and editing techniques in social networks help us in our endeavour to gain social respect and positive reception as well as to present ourselves in the way we want it. We lead, control, manipulate and select. With Facetune, Snapchat and Photoshop we can create the perfect body online. Replies are not spontaneous, but rather curated beforehand. One’s own mimicry can be hidden; there is no need to identify the body language of our (real) counterpart, and issues that do not fit into the perfect picture will not be shared online.

As the smartphone has nearly become a part of our self through the daily use of it in so many areas, we hardly stop swiping and typing. We see ourselves confronted with nearly hundreds of edited pictures and adverts a day. The pressure to keep up to certain ideals seems to be especially tough for women as the artist implies. Through the ideals of beauty and slimness, inherent especially in Western societies, westill define ourselves according to our external appearance – the body is our business card.

Already in ancient times, the Renaissance or even in modern times, people strove to be as beautiful as their ideals in paintings, advertisements, films or the media. Social media now increases the pressure, which becomes a daily issue. While in former times unreachable models or actors served as ideals, nowadays these are replaced by influencers that present advertisement and body norms, disguised as the friend next door, often covering the fact that harsh commercial interests are behind them. “BBHMM” illustrates this in a wonderful way through the reference to the Kardashian family, whose Instagram accounts are among the most popular in the world. The family’s most famous member went so far as to publish a book full of her personal selfies – not to mention the enormous revenue gained through product placement on their Instagram accounts.

Does the selfie symbolize a narcistic society likely to produce a new social Darwinism as the Belgian psychoanalyst Paul Verhaeghe** constituted?

Self stands for character, identity, nature or set of characteristics; everything that a person perceives as one’s self or the identity one tries to cultivate in everyday life. Selfish on the other hand, describes someone that is concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself and seeks or concentrates on one‘s own advantage, pleasure without regard for others – a phenomenon that becomes more than apparent on the Internet and by the number of selfies online. According to a survey, we speak in a real-life conversation approximately 30 – 40% about ourselves, whereas in social media about 80% of the posts are centred on one’s own self. Should we then interpret the ish in the title of the exhibition in a way that our self pretends to be something which it is not or only nearly?

Zohar Fraiman asks all these questions in her paintings without preaching, but rather in a playful way, so that one can wonder around from one cross-reference or allusion to another. There is almost nothing that she leaves to chance, apart from the cats that perhaps underline again her humorous handling of the subject. She wants the viewer to have fun with the paintings, in spite of the serious subject. And thus,
the stripes of the wallpapers echo themselves via the Zebras in the background, and the actions of the cats leave plenty of room for interpretation. The colour Yellow, though, which repeatedly catches our eye, is not only an eye-catcher. In Hebrew, it can represent envy and also in German, there is the saying “yellow with envy”.

Hans-Georg Moeller and his co- author Paul D’Ambrosio*** in their book ‘You and Your Profile: Identity After Authenticity’, suggest that we live in a world, in which our identities are no longer based on the idea of being our true selves, and that instead, we design our identities on the basis of profiles or personal brands. Based on Lionel Trilling they distinguish between different forms of identity. Whereas identity based on “Sincerity” describes a conformity to the roles we are born into or that society imposes on us, “Authenticity” emerged as the base of identity in the 20th century, and which is rather built on individualism and originality. The two argue that with the Internet and social media we more or less curate profiles to be evaluated by ananonymous audience and not necessarily individual people, demonstrated by the number of likes, positive comments or ratings online – a rather abstract being.

How many personalities do we have and what is our real self? Zohar Fraiman succeeds in highlighting painful issues with a lot of humour, with sometimes delicate, sometimes direct implications, a colourfulness and wisely chosen image compositions that create varied moods and associations.


*   Goffman, Erving. The Presentation of Self in Every Day Life. Doubleday: Garden City, New York, 1959

**   Verhaeghe, Paul: Einsame Inseln mit Selfies und Angst. http://sciencev2.orf.at/ stories/1748130/index.html

***   Hans-Georg Moeller & Paul J. D‘Ambrosio. You and Your Profile: Identity after Authenticity. Columbia University Press, 2021

Self-ish Zohar Fraiman