Giana De Dier Introduces Anonymous Women of the African Diaspora in Bold Collaged Portraits
The mystique of anonymity is a powerful presence, exemplified by a common fascination with family albums and historical archives in which we try to recognize unknown faces. Who were they? What are their stories? In bold, mixed-media portraits, Panama City-based artist Giana De Dier is driven by the enigmatic quality of early photographs centering on women of the African Diaspora. Her subjects are often portrayed wearing patterned fabrics, large earrings, and elaborately plaited hairstyles, situated in front of photographed landscapes or domestic interiors that incorporate African masks and decor and tropical plants.
When she first began to make collages, De Dier culled imagery from glossy magazines like Vogue and Elle, incorporating materials and textures from clothing and textiles. Her recent work looks further back in time, drawing inspiration primarily from depictions of women in the 19th and 20th centuries. “I’m interested in who the person photographed was, why they were photographed, and who took the photo,” she says, sharing that even when she comes across a newer image she likes, she manipulates it to make it appear as if it’s from the past. “My intention when using these images is to create new meaning and stories and find ways to connect these with my own.”
De Dier’s collages depict individuals seated in a traditional portrait posture or interacting and conversing with one another in interior settings. The relaxed atmosphere offers a counterpoint to a legacy of those who migrated to Panama in the early 1900s to build the Panama Canal. De Dier examines the “struggle, failed expectations, and heritage of a displaced people” that are informed by interviews and collected stories, remembering a period of grueling labor and challenging living conditions in the segregated Canal Zone.
Combining paper, woven African fabrics, and swatches of denim cut from jeans to make dresses, cloaks, furnishings, and architectural details, De Dier highlights “racial, religious, and language disparities within Panamanian society and culture” while emphasizing individuals’ powerful presences and contributions to the fabric of daily life, both literally and metaphorically. “Denim has always been present in some way,” she says. “It’s also one of the most worn textiles in Panama—where I was born and currently live—even with our warm and humid weather. Denim, to me, is connected with labor and serves as a way of placing these people and events from the past in a context that’s current.”
Find more of De Dier’s work on her website, and follow updates on Instagram.
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