Oliver Girling

Portrait of the Artist Disguised as Robert Mugabe

1979
Girling's witty and ambiguous painting points to the ruses involved in the formation of social (including artistic) identity. Here the artist nominally disguises himself as the African leader Mugabe, disingenuously adopting "poor" materials as appropriate references to the leader of a liberation movement. He applies other cultural tokens, such as the posture of monumental political portraits and references to African-influenced Cubism, as "confirmation" of this identification of White as Black, Western as African, and artist as revolutionary. The contest of identity continues in the motifs imposed on Girling/Mugabe's shirt, where we see symbols of labour (schematic wheelbarrows) and freedom (birds in flight) disrupted by a symbol of the artist's trade (a reclining nude). In the end, we recognize that the process of identification, both here and elsewhere, is a question of performance and wilful projection.
Title
Portrait of the Artist Disguised as Robert Mugabe
Date
1979
Medium
Painting
Materials
encaustic, tar-paper, cardboard, acrylic medium, enamel paint, staples and wax crayon over gesso on plywood
Dimensions
244 x 244 cm overall; panels: 244 x 122 cm each
Nationality
Canadian
Credit line
Purchased 1986
Accession number
29331.1-2