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Desirable Bodies; Obliterated Upper Faces

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Bepen Bhana's Te Tuhi billboard project, Facial Suite, on Reeves Road, Pakuranga. Bepen Bhana's Te Tuhi billboard project, Facial Suite, on Reeves Road (detail) Bepen Bhana's Te Tuhi billboard project, Facial Suite, on Reeves Road (detail) Bepen Bhana's Te Tuhi billboard project, Facial Suite, on Reeves Road (detail) Bepen Bhana's Te Tuhi billboard project, Facial Suite, on Reeves Road (detail) Bepen Bhana's Te Tuhi billboard project, Facial Suite, on Reeves Road (detail)

The poses are important too because they help those templates of desire fill in the missing facial parts. We guess that beautiful bodies must have beautiful faces, so what shape will their eyes be? What alignment, size and colour can we imagine? What type of cheekbone? And what will those eyes ‘say' to us?

Auckland

 

Bepen Bhana
The Facial Suite 2011

 

26 November 2011 - 29 January 2012

Facial Suites, this set of three Reeves Road hoardings by Bepen Bhana, a lecturer at the Manukau School of Visual Arts, seems at first glance to be based on eighties fitness info commercials - for we see the same glamorous hetero couple repeated three times with perfect bronzed bodies that are immaculately blemish and sweat free.

In the centre they are dressed for running or cycling outdoors, but when in the skimpier lurid pink outfits seen on either side they look like pornstars. With his hand in his shorts pocket there is the suggestion of some imminent intimate activity. (The title seems to allude to oral sex). They are not exercise-mad models playfully following the instructions of a photographer - as in the middle. The mood is different; it’s subtly more carnal.

Perfect bronzed bodies’ isn’t totally accurate either, as you probably have realised by now. These people have no eyes. Skin has been ‘grafted’ over their eyeless sockets, as if repair work done to disguise horrific injuries - or else to deny them sight. The more you look the creepier their faces become.

With blank skin instead of eyes these images could almost be actors wearing dark sunglasses, devices that hide the eyes. When we encounter strangers wearing ‘shades’ we tend to project our fantasies onto them, while speculating as to what physiognomy lies beneath the plastic and glass. Such habitual assumptions, based on what we can guess about their gestures, body language, racial identity, facial shape and coded sexual orientation, are mental patterns we identify with and carry around as baggage. That is why we often get a small shock when they (the sunglasses) are removed.

The poses here are important too because they help those templates of desire fill in the missing facial parts. We guess that beautiful bodies must have beautiful faces, so what shape will their eyes be? What alignment, size and colour can we imagine? What type of cheekbone? What textured eyebrows? And what will those eyes ‘say’ to us?

On a more obvious level Bhana’s images also seem to be making a joke about advertising, and the conventions of marketing. No lettered brand names and no ostensible products are in sight, and the skin-grafted appearance - like all deformity - makes viewers nervous. The hoardings look like a gimmicky ad with the punchline forgotten. Something may have been added, but something else has been left out; a provocative puzzle to challenge the bored motorists idling their way past Te Tuhi.

John Hurrell

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This Discussion has 1 comment.

Comment

Martin Langdon, 10:03 p.m. 26 January, 2012

It makes me think of 'spokes-models' advertising for companies/brands and being the face for a product but highlighting the soulless reality of those same companies (profit before people) by removing the gateway. "Blindly we follow and consume" is also another notion that comes to mind. Beautiful work

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