In EVALUATIONS, a series of self-portraits by artist Arabelle Raphael, Raphael takes a close examination of the truth behind negative comments left by her audience on her work as a professional model. With her series of photographs, Raphael accomplishes something special — she re-creates herself through the twisted mental framework of her original audience, enlightening us, and them, to the dark truth of their opinions. Her art gives the audience reason to cry, hurt, feel shame, and most hopefully, grow.
In EVALUATIONS #1 Raphael lives inside a comment she received on Tumblr, in which after viewing a photo Raphael shared of her sheets and genitals after menstrual sex, an anonymous commenter wrote, “Now I know why Hitler gassed the Jews you dirty fucking whore.” In response, Raphael places herself dead, alone and naked, on a warehouse floor. Her blood paints a swastika below her feet. She takes the anonymous comment and shows the viewer exactly what the comment means, creating the visual truth behind their anonymous words.
“Now I know why Hitler gassed the Jews you dirty fucking whore.”
– anonymous, Tumblr
In EVALUATIONS #2, a letter expresses a deep fondness for Raphael, the writer wants to save her from the world of adult entertainment and put her on a pedestal, for them alone to worship. Raphael takes the letter, the fourth sent via different platforms, from the fan and shows the darkness hidden within.
“I believe you’ve picked the wrong industry, in fact, what you’ve done is lowered yourself in an effort to do so…and i’m sure you’re most likely aware of this….you’re much more of a painting or photo type beauty, fuck even sculpture!…and of course, a living muse for my writing…why porn anyway, was there no other outlet for you to rise within…no other expression that was fitting enough…
so, stop doin it…you belong in a garden with your dress hiked up above you knees getting wet and dirty finger nails…and absolutely ravaged by me, daily…cooked for, bathed, loved…i wish to convey this to you so you can hear it from the universe by a man who isnt pursuing you do to your career choices…”
– The Purple Dozer, Gmail, and Okcupid, 4th letter
The writer offers to act as savior and admirer, but only for their own enjoyment. There is no true care shown for her in the language, no sincere worry, only aggression and lust. The writer’s jealousy at what can’t be had is palpable. Raphael takes that unwritten intent and shows the true violent nature of her fan.
The imagery created for EVALUATIONS #3 is truly heartbreaking and begins with the message, “I hope you get cancer and they have cut your tits off. You ugly bitch,” written by an anonymous commenter on Tumblr. Like the other messages in the series, the commenter is attacking Raphael for how she looks and possibly the fact that she is happy the way she is. It’s an attack on her appearance, her ethnicity, and her personhood.
Again, Raphael plays it brilliantly and does not get angry back, vindictive or snide, but takes that verbal abuse and opens it up even deeper, showing herself in the raw, playing out the role the commenter wrote for her.
“I hope you get cancer and they have cut your tits off. You ugly bitch.”
– anonymous, Tumblr
“Jesus, how is this attractive? She looks like a liquor store that a fat Arab chain smokes in.”
– commenter on Instagram
EVALUATION #5 stabs directly back at the commenter with humor, humility, and understanding. Raphael, born in Paris to Tunisian, French, Iranian and Jewish parents, delivers her most blunt retort with a quasi-shrug, as if to say, “chain smoking in a liquor store is not such a bad thing.”
Throughout the series, Raphael shows how much her audience does care, towards the negative. The anonymous messages, meant to cause her pain and anguish, are treated with sincerity. In each piece, Raphael displays a great skill — the ability to take the words meant to harm and demean and look beyond them and show no shame for being who she is. The comments Raphael is depicting in EVALUATIONS are not isolated. Similar forms of harassment happen across the workplace, our neighborhoods, and social media. Raphael’s series of portraits are not an accurate portrayal of the artist herself, but an honest lens, a truthful mirror, set against those that watch her from the safety of distance and anonymity.
EVALUATIONS is part performance art and part self-portrait, the artist as subject, as the medium. It is a sophisticated body of work, a series that bursts with insight and clarity.
For more information on Arabelle Raphael, visit her Linktree.