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Ariana Page Russell: Just in time for Tut

Tutankhamun’s come-back is coming up empty. Following a nationwide consensus, he’s now racking up bad reviews in the Bay Area, including a key one from Kenneth Baker:

Among people with a professional interest in the arts, “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs,” which opens today at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, will merely deepen the tarnish on the reputation of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

More here. The first Tut wave in the U.S. in the 1970s reverberated in the art of the time. This time, the only response worthy of the high status of the subject comes from Brooklyn artist Ariana Page Russell, via Shaun Kardinal. Titled Pharaoh, it’s a self-portrait as boy king.

arianarusselltut.jpgJust as Tut’s body is an essential part of the touring package, Russell’s patterns come not from paint but from welts. She explains:

I have dermatographia, a condition in which one’s
immune system exhibits hypersensitivity, via skin, that releases
excessive amounts of histamine, causing capillaries to dilate and welts
to appear (lasting about thirty minutes) when the skin’s surface is
lightly scratched. This allows me to painlessly draw patterns and words
on my skin, which I then photograph. Even though I can direct this
ephemeral response by drawing on it, the reaction is involuntary, much
like the uncontrollable nature of a blush.


  1. If I’m not mistaken, given her recent techniques, the patterns depicted in this image show not welts but a second-order skin image: temporary tattoos made from photographs of welts on her skin, then reproduced and applied in patterns on her skin.

  2. to be sure, most of Ariana’s work of the past few years has had little to do tangibly with her dermatographia. the patterns created for the ‘Dressing’ series are made from meticulously hand-sliced and -arranged photographs of her skin, the brightness and hues controlled by her mastery of the darkroom. once arranged, the patterns are then scanned and printed out onto temporary tattoos, which are then also hand-cut and -arranged by the artist back onto her body. this laborious and time-consuming process is not necessarily apparent in the culminating photo, it is worth of note.
    while her work continues to deal with layers of abstracted adornment and the fashion of skin, i think the distinction deserves to be made.

  3. Thanks for the feedback, and Regina, thank you for the post. The fashion in this photograph is modeled after Liz Taylor as Cleopatra. I really love her style and performance in that film, and both Liz and Cleopatra are/were powerful women known for dressing up. Since all the titles in the ‘Dressing’ series are lipstick shades, I thought it appropriate to reference Cleopatra, who made her lipstick from crushed beetles and ants.
    If you get a chance, please go see ‘Pharaoh’ at Platform this month, along with some other new photographs!

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