Toledano at Edmund Pearce

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Philip Toledano, Pool Float, from The Absent Portrait series, 2013

Edmund Pearce Gallery has an exhibition by New York photographer Phillip Toledano, a series called The Absent Portrait. They are large pigment prints derived from a very unusual source, supermarket packages from Iran. The censors in that repressive Islamic country deface packaging imports to rub out the illustrations of women. Each and every individual package – swimming toys, puzzles, underwear – everything with an image of a woman, is censored. This means blocking out the photograph with a texta or paintbrush. It’s appalling and funny at the same time.

Toledano, a nimble and enterprising conceptual artist, has got hold of some of these packages and converted the censors’ handiwork into artworks.

I remove the blacked-out figure from the surrounding image, and a transformation occurs. The censor becomes an artist. And the censored figure becomes a portrait. A portrait not of a person, but of absence. Of suppression. A portrait of a point of view. The censor, whose job it is to erase, becomes the person who makes us look.

The Absent Portrait continues at Edmund Pearce Gallery, in Melbourne’s Nicholas Building, until November 2

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