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Selfies, Belfies and Beyoncé

New exhibition #hashtag explores how social media shapes perceptions of women

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Danielle Georgiou Selfie
How does a hashtag spark debate or foster community among women? Courtesy of Danielle Georgiou / Instagram
Danielle Georgiou Selfie
Danielle Georgiou's exhibit #hashtag runs through July 3.  Courtesy of Danielle Georgiou / Instagram
Danielle Georgiou Selfie
Danielle Georgiou Selfie

The first room of the exhibition #hashtag, Danielle Georgiou’s first solo show now at Women and Their Work through July 3, is full of selfies. 

There, on large prints, are pictures of Georgiou in various stages of bed head. Her hair — dark and thick — dominates the frame of each shot, in one photo spilling out over her face so much we can only see her nose and lips. In another, a bun sits atop her head but curly clumps stick out in erratic directions. In most, her makeup is more under her eyes than on them. Under each portrait, a small, clear piece of tape is mounted to the wall with a tiny heart, drawn in pencil, and a number: 17, 24, 9.

For nearly 150 days, Georgiou, a Dallas-based video performance artist, dancer, and founder and artistic director of the Danielle Georgiou Dance Group, has been taking a photograph at the moment she wakes up and posting it immediately to her Instagram account with a hashtag: #iwokeuplikethis, #flawless and others like #brutalhonesty and #daniellebedhead. The number under each portrait in the gallery represents the number of "likes" each one has received on Instagram.

Her project was inspired partly by Beyoncé's single "Flawless," credited as the source for the trending #iwokeuplikehtis hashtag, a phrase so popular it is being worn on tank tops. In her song, Beyoncé quotes from a speech by feminist writer Chimananda Ngozi Adichie that women are raised to see each other as competitors "not for jobs or accomplishments / which I can think can be a good thing / but for the attention of men."

"It's as if Beyoncé is blind to Adichie's message," Georgiou says in her artist's statement, "because almost immediately following her sampling, Beyoncé sings, "bitches bow down" because she "woke up flawless."

Georgiou’s response to that assertion has been to document what a real wake-up shot looks like, and to find beauty in the mundane. The photos are raw, messy, sleepy, discombobulated portraits with weird crop lines. Video composites of these same portraits are projected onto the main walls in the gallery’s center, while "Flawless" plays in the background. The huge portraits flashing through on multiple walls are captivating because of their honesty.

The installation is just one of the ways Georgiou explores femininity and the psychological effect of social media on perceptions of the female body. In the back room of the gallery, a series of 12 photographs of Georgiou’s butt in different positions are displayed on calendar months. They’re "belfies," an exploration of another female body hashtag phenomenon, sparked from 20-year-old Jen Selter who rose to Instagram fame thanks to her large behind. 

In Georgiou's photographs — unlike Selter’s or typical belfies — her face is purposefully obscured so that the viewer is focused solely on the body. In each shot, Georgiou is laying face down on a bed and her bottom — dressed in light purple, high-waisted spandex — is presented in different poses. Some of the pictures are sexual in nature, others appear almost distorted, as if her butt is disconnected from her body. The belfies are both more anonymous and strangely more alarming than the portraits in the front room.

The selfies and the belfies are a nod to the trend of chronicling of every single moment and thought on social media, a stream of global consciousness that often gets loosely organized into a Twitter trendline (and often into cultural conversations and debates about the value and power of hashtag activism).

When the horrific story of 200 missing Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamist extremists was brought into the center of global media attention, it began with the hashtag #bringbackourgirls, a slogan first used in a speech made by the vice president of the World Bank for Africa. That took off and became a social media phenomenon: Michelle Obama and Amy Poehler are among the instantly recognizable women who posed with a picture of the hashtag. The girls remain missing, however. And in the days since Elliott Rodger’s May 23 killing spree at University of California Santa Barbara, supposedly fueled by misogynistic motives, millions of women have adopted the #yesallwomen hashtag to relate their tales of everyday misogyny and incidents of sexual assault.

Considering the lifespan of typical trending topics in the 140-character Twitterverse, these hashtags have been trending for exceptional periods of time. And both have been heavily debated. "Is #bringbackourgirls helping?" asked the Washington Post in a May 19 op-ed, or "are Western tweeters falling into a trap of ineffectual, or even counter-productive, slacktivism?" Has the #yesallwomen "jumped the shark," as The Daily Beast argues, or, is it "moving and needed," as Sasha Weiss suggests in the New Yorker

It is a debate we are at the beginning of, as the way we absorb and communicate information continues to change and we add more words like "slacktivism" and "hacktivism" into our cultural vocabularies. And while what Georgiou is primarily exploring our ideas about feminism, beauty and objectification through the lens of social media and hashtags, she is also proving how trending topics and phrases shape our cultural understanding of women.

The show serves as a tangible illustration of the conversation we keep finding ourselves having. How does a hashtag spark debate or foster community among women? How can it affect individual self-identity and self-worth?

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The exhibit runs through July 3 at Women and Their Work Gallery, and is free and open to the public. More information on the gallery and the exhibit can be found here.

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