Symbolic portraits locating femininity between two cultures

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Ritual, family heritage and decorative costumes are at the heart of Marie Hudelot’s series of portraits. Dressing her subjects with jewels, feathers, flowers and ribbons, she explores themes of femininity, honour, seduction and youthfulness.

“I wanted to create a set of symbolic portraits inspired by my background,” explains Hudelot, born in Toulon in 1981. “My mother is Algerian and my father is French. I used the pictorial tradition of still life and created characters where the objects [they hold or wear] come from different customs.”

The series is partly inspired by the 1983 Woody Allen mockumentary Zelig, about a man (played by Allen) who changes his character to fit in with the people around him. “This film was a reference in that I wanted to create caricatures, but not in a critical way,” she explains. “The idea was to suggest different characters.”

One of the central themes running through the work is the notion of femininity. “Growing up, I learned different things about what it means to be a woman,” says Hudelot. “For example, in Algerian culture, women often have long hair and wear jewellery to show their femininity,” she says. “But in France women are more independent and tend to dress in a more minimal, less ornamental way. Part of the work is about femininity located in the context of these two cultures.”

Hudelot says creating the carefully styled portraits takes time, and although she started the series in 2012, she finished it only last year. “It’s as though I am a painter, making a painting of a model,” she says. “I have a lot of ideas before I begin, and I take a lot of accessories with me to each shoot, but it’s only when I make the pictures that I choose which to use and how. It’s instinctive. 

“Not showing the person’s face is important – it allows viewers to interpret the images in their own way,” she adds. “If you don’t see the face, the person can be anyone and everyone. The characters become ‘masked’, and nature and ritual objects take precedence over the individual.”

Find more of Marie’s work here.

First published in the April 2014 issue. You can buy it here.