The thousand identities of Cindy Sherman

Just one subject, herself, and her endless appearances: Cindy Sherman is a photographer but, above all, she is a performer.

Surrounded by wigs, make-up, clothes, prostheses and objects of all kinds, in her studio and alone Cindy Sherman gives life to transformation, staging her scenes and playing with the idea of stereotype and identity.

Cindy, that’s me!

Ever since she was a child, nothing amused her more than costumes. Born in 1954 in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, Cindy Sherman spent her childhood in Long Island. She loved collecting clothes and accessories, as well as leaving her house now as an old woman, now as a tomboy, dreaming of living every day as if it were Halloween. Thanks to the complicity of her parents, who never hindered her creativity, at the age of 10 she had already created her first photo album in which, on the bottom of every picture that portrayed her, she always added the same caption: “that’s me”!

One, no one and one hundred thousand identities

Due to her insufficient printing technique, Cindy Sherman was rejected at the preliminary examinations of photography at the Buffalo State University of New York. Nevertheless, she wasn’t interested in the technique: photography was just a tool to freeze her performances, which saw her cancelling her identity by manipulating the appearance of her face and body, thus loosing herself in a different cultural stereotype from time to time. In Bus Riders of 1976 she played the role of women and men waiting for the bus, namely ghosts without identity of the workers of Modern America, showing how every social role makes us ordinary and anonymous. In Untitled Film Stills, a series made between 1977 and 1980, she managed to bring back to life all the clichés of the female characters of the 1950s cinema with acute irony, codified stereotypes that are now part of the collective imaginary. In this game of identities, Cindy Sherman didn’t neglect the icons of art history.

Cindy Sherman, Bus Riders, 1976.

The art of parody

In the series entitled History Portrait, Cindy Sherman became truly unrecognizable by honoring, still in a desecrating way, some of the masterpieces of Western Modern art. In Untitled #216 she transformed the Virgin in the Melun diptych by Fouquet by representing her away from the throne and making her human and sensual. The ethereal Fornarina, who perhaps was Raphael’s lover, became an anonymous and conventional woman in Untitled #205, a female stereotype of the 1980s America. With great imitative skills, instead, she dressed up as the Young Sick Bacchus, exactly like in the famous artwork by Caravaggio.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled #224, 1990, Collection of Linda and Jerry Janger, Los Angeles. © 2012 Cindy Sherman.

Instagram: the imitation of life

A careful observer of society’s clichés, Cindy Sherman has recently joined Instagram. We do not know if this is a new photographic project, but the artist certainly seems to make fun of narcissism in the era of selfies, once again starting from her face, this time grotesquely and ironically distorted by the use of filters and effects. No narcissistic demands: Cindy Sherman has always only photographed herself, without however self-celebrating and talking about herself. Disappearing in a thousand other identities, she uses her body as a canvas to investigate human reality, to make humankind’s vices and virtues clear and obvious, and to imitate life.


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