In its infancy, way back in 2014, Instagram was immediately identified as the “world’s most talked-about new art dealer,” a brand new vehicle to buy and sell art bypassing the traditional channels. But for Millennials, artists and followers alike, it has become more than that – a new medium, where the selfie is the new portrait, occasionally perfected to a gallery-worthy level.
It should not come as a surprise that even established artists like Cindy Sherman, who has made a career creating iterations of herself in black and white photographic self-portraits, last year started an Instagram account full of digitally manipulated selfies. Among the young artists whose primary medium is Instagram and whose primary model is themselves, there are three accounts that stand out for me.
John Yuyi’s temporary tattoos
I was introduced to John Yuyi, whose following list was my entry ticket into the world of Instagram artists, when I saw her winning piece in a Gucci campaign design contest: her hand covering half of her face, both smattered with temporary tattoos of Gucci logos and Instagram tag bubbles. The foundation of Yuyi’s photography career is these temporary tattoos that she designs for herself and other models, but she also creates inventive outfits.
What’s great about Yuyi’s Instagram is that there really is no line between her gallery art and her selfies. She finds a creative way to dress up in every situation, whether outfitting herself entirely in plastic bags or posing nude in an airplane bathroom with a toilet liner on her face.
The face of Zah
Zah is an exquisite face. There are no human-like photos of Zah, no human-like name, no gender. Just repeating patterns meant to represent the patterns of nature: impeccable slicked curls of hair, infinite eyes, and infinite circles.
Zah is also a representative of the queer party scene that many of these artist inhabit. Last year Zah inaugurated their gender-fluid fashion line by bringing the Asian queer dance party Bubble T to MoMA PS1.
MLMA’s art of clones
The Korean rapper and artist MLMA has gained a cult following on Instagram for her technically masterful photos and videos in which she interacts with clones of herself. Some of her edits bring to mind the deformed characters of famous horror manga artist Junji Ito, who she tributes in one post. In another video, she lies on the edge of a fur carpet with her wet hair splayed out, and the shadow of her face sticks its tongue out and wiggles it. There is audio of her making an impossible to explain groan/hiss, and at the end she sweetly smiles. The caption: “Describe this emotion I don’t know what it is”.
MLMA’s art works perfectly in the narcissistic space of Instagram. She performs the most explicitly a balancing act that all these Instagram artists must maintain, both making fun of and glorifying her narcissism while avoiding the extra bit of self-indulgence that would render her “annoying” or the hint of self-hatred that would spell “boring.”