Our identities are endlessly complicated — a strange mix of our own personal insecurities and ambitions, combined with the pressures of a society projecting its insecurities and ambitions onto us. Especially in a year with little distraction, we've been forced to sit with ourselves in months-long isolation, reflecting on who we are, what we've been and ways we can possibly adapt moving forward.

At Los Angeles' Kohn Gallery, an exhibition titled myselves attempts to wrestles with these complicated intersections through the works of 27 contemporary artists. Curator Joshua Friedman considered everything that impacts the self — gender, race, sexuality and national identity — in order to pull together pieces that "examine the ways in which identity is structured or fabricated."

Below, a selection of the artists featured in myselves speak more on how their work reflects the exhibition's themes and the role of an artist in 2020.

Skye Volmar (@skyevolmar)

Skye Volmar, Pollinators, 2020
Colored pencil, makeup, oil pastel on paper, 14 x 11 inches

"Do we choose ourselves or do ourselves choose us?"

How do you think this work connects to or builds upon the show's larger theme?

Myselves is a show about the complicated, incoherent "stuff" we're made of. I'm concerned with how all this "stuff" is interpreted. Do we think of ourselves as insides, outsides, or everything around and in-between? Are we as we identify, as we're identified, both or neither? In other words, do we choose ourselves or do ourselves choose us? Gesture is the stuff of images. I'm stuck on a specific set of gestures, right now. The most consistent of which is a sharp, curvilinear line. For me, it takes on meaning in its repetition. It feels a way to fracture each figure within the picture plane, because it's difficult, if not disruptive, to create a fixed image of a person. It's also a nod to the fractal nature in all of us. The infinite intersectionality of our identities and the interconnectedness that follows. Everything is made up of the same stuff. Look-alike (Clermont Twins) are literally images of multiples, like mirrors. Like Moths to a Flame and Pollinators [two other works by Skye Volmar] are images of individuals and insects, made up of the same ideas and intersecting lines. Flight of Fancy is somewhere in-between.

What do you think is the role of an artist in 2020?

I don't know if the role of an artist is self-determined. I think we're responsible for and to our purpose, but our role... that's up to everyone else? Art is the amalgamation, documentation, or "product" of a process that myself and other artists refer to as one's "practice." Right now, I feel the purpose of my practice is to cultivate a better understanding of myself and others. I'm practicing beauty, connectivity, empathy, honesty, introspection, patience, submission. In my practice, I try to fulfill my purpose. If I may presuppose my role, it would be to better myself, better my work, better my practice, and in so doing, communicate something of a shared experience — akin to socialization — between myself and others.

How has your understanding of "self" shifted this year, especially under such unprecedented circumstances?

If anything, these "circumstances" affirm my sense of "self" as a moving target. I come up against what it means to be me from month to millisecond. Right now, I'm expanding my understanding of self in isolation. More fitting to say: self in solace or self with more consideration for and less confrontation as/of other. Always, I'm sitting with myself as a Black, bisexual/pansexual/queer, woman. As it so happens, I feel a little more seen from the outside because of these unprecedented circumstances.

Chelsea Culprit (@chelseaculprit)

Chelsea Culprit, Your Roots Are Showing: Preteen Chimeras with Summer Fruit and Walmart Panties, 2020
Oil, acrylic, oil stick, pastel collage and digitally printed canvas on canvas, 47.25 x 118 inches

"The role of the artist is always to describe the experience of contemporary life and materialize imagined possibilities."

How do you think this work connects to or builds upon the show's larger theme?

Your Roots Are Showing: Preteen Chimeras with Summer Fruit and Walmart Panties, 2020, portrays fragmented views of a human figure in repetitious posturing that is absorbed within and defined against a pattern. It portrays the phenomena of belonging and difference, as well the oscillating/pulsing sensation of pleasure and displeasure of one's own fluctuating desire to be unique and be seen, as well as to be camouflaged and part of a group, sub-culture, family, community, society, citizen. In this case, figure and ground is visually equivalent to subject and context. One may want or not want either of these positions amongst a spectrum of "identities" at a rapidly fluctuating pace.

The pattern is from an old family quilt whose vibrant pastel palette is similar to childhood memories of plastic summer dish-ware and floral patterned underwear — all relics of the persistence of floral abstractions marking the classed gendered body; expressions of acceptability, preciousness and the feminine; domestic aesthetics out of sync with art history save for the impressionists. In this process of belonging and difference, where one comes from and what one has looked at is one of many grounds for the figure.

What do you think is the role of an artist in 2020?

The role of the artist is always to describe the experience of contemporary life and materialize imagined possibilities.

How has your understanding of "self" shifted this year, especially under such unprecedented circumstances?

The isolation necessary to combat a pandemic has created a collective moment of extreme introspection, coupled with the public reckoning of a society organized by systemic racism. Our interdependence as individuals is undeniable and necessary to create any actions that can meaningfully change these circumstances. In 2020, my understanding of "self" has shifted to an understanding of the social interdependence that create the conditions for all "selves."

Xiuching Tsay (@chyvenne)

Xiuching Tsay, A lost child picked flowers from the starry field, 2020
Oil and pastel on canvas, 19 3/4 x 15 3/4 inches

"More than conservative forces, internet power is now a bigger influence on self-representations."

How do you think this work connects to or builds upon the show's larger theme?

Both paintings in the show are the re-interpretation of my past selves, and I re-approached them with a present instinct to see the possibilities of becoming a new self. The painting process always starts with a vague image of the experiences I witnessed or the reflection of my past self that remains perplexed. A lost child, picked flowers from the starry field has built upon the image of my young self who was afraid of socializing. She was sitting far away from the sparkling group of flowers that represent the community. Then the following stage engaged with the self-transformation. I exerted my instinctive reactions to that subject matter, overlapping that past self-imagery with the new brush strokes forced by the immediate consciousness. Through those brush movements, I can see the continuing story of the self and the development. Through painting, I experienced many selves from the old self to the present self that has a more unpredictable form.

What do you think is the role of an artist in 2020?

It is important to express an artist's own perspectives toward the current world in the most honest way. In 2020, the pandemic surely affects most people's lives. Everybody had been quarantined or some are still quarantining. Some people are losing their home while some are moving into a new home. In every corner of the world, people experience COVID's impact but differently. And artists are also human beings, living in a corner where it is unknown to others. So, I think it is interesting to see each artist share what is really happening in their areas and how it affects their personal life. It is also interesting to see how an artist represents that with their own creative medium and spirituality.

How has your understanding of "self" shifted this year, especially under such unprecedented circumstances?

My understanding of self has been shifting every year. It changes following the cultural world and the society that keeps changing, and the more I grow up the more I see new aspects of the self. Many years ago, I had never thought about the influences on my identity. I had a quiet personality and often found it difficult to speak out my real thoughts. However, this year is one of the most remarkable years for self-reflection.

I am now back in Thailand and because of COVID-19 I have been staying here almost a year now. I am 26, the age that I get to see the cultural reality clearer, become aware of politics and collective consciousness. Especially, now there are revolutionary protests in Thailand calling for human rights and freedom of expressions. So, I reflected back to when I was young and there was a system that children must not argue against adults' conservative beliefs. It took much bravery to express a natural self that denies the social collective aspects. Now, seeing high school students calling for their diverse rights has encouraged me to overcome my past self-struggle. I can see this collective conscious is developing to welcome more diversity as we exchange viewpoints through internet. And more than conservative forces, internet power is now a bigger influence on self-representations.

Heidi Hahn (@heidihahn123)

Heidi Hahn, Woman I Know, A Woman I've Seen, 2020
Oil on canvas, 72 x 60 inches

"My role now is to shift the conversation, change it instead of adding to the rhetoric that exists."

How do you think this work connects to or builds upon the show's larger theme?

I always imbue the women in my paintings with an acute awareness of self. They belong only to themselves and give the surface of that pathos, so the viewer can see it as theater in a way — the performance of that attitude. I think my work builds on the theme because it's always about the selfhood of femininity, how are women represented.

What do you think is the role of an artist in 2020?

I always thought that no matter what, being an artist — choosing to be an artist — was political, regardless of the content you deal with. Painting women and representing them in a certain way is a statement of sorts. Issues of identity and feminism and how I am able to propagate a different conversation than what some representation has allowed (the use of nudity in dealing with femininity). My role now is to shift the conversation, change it instead of adding to the rhetoric that exists.

How has your understanding of "self" shifted this year, especially under such unprecedented circumstances?

I think I am much more fearful. I think the selfishness of self that I had is slipping. I actually had COVID and was sick for the whole month of April. Any time you go through a health issue, you kind of give yourself up to the world in a way that says, I'm just a body and nothing else really matters. That, in some ways is scary, that you don't truly belong to yourself. That's also getting older, the way you understand and relate to not just yourself but others. So yes, I am very fearful but maybe that makes me a little grateful and more open to things I'm uncomfortable with.

Emily Mae Smith (@emaesmith)

Emily Mae Smith, The Knot, 2020
Oil on linen, 30 x 23 inches

"I've been working on dismantling the fortress of self."

How do you think this work connects to or builds upon the show's larger theme, myselves?

My paintings in the exhibition — titled The Knot and Live Forever — both represent states of flux or transformation.

What do you think is the role of an artist in 2020?

The scale and range of what has been popularly understood as art represents a tiny sliver of what we know is human subjectivity. It's time we break all that open, glean and repurpose what we can, build aliens, run toward otherness with glee.

How has your understanding of "self" shifted this year, especially under such unprecedented circumstances?

I've been working on dismantling the fortress of self.

(Featured Image) Skye Volmar, Look-alike (Clermont Twins), 2020
Colored pencil, makeup on paper, 11 x 14 inches

Photos courtesy of Kohn Gallery

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