The woman is of undeterminable age, with her face creased by elements and the passage of time. Her remaining teeth are crooked and stained, but from her mouth protrudes a wad of betel nut, a stimulant, she’s been chewing throughout most of her life.
By contrast, the comely features of a young Balinese dancer suggest the random and fleeting nature of physical beauty, but a close up view of a skull perched on an Indonesian temple ledge establishes how life can be just as unpredictable.
These portrayals are part of an exhibition of photographs titled “Citizens of the World: Karen Redding.” It is a collection of the confluence of art and travelogue, curiosity and courage and world-awareness beyond Western civilization.
Artist Pat Sparkuhl, an exhibition specialist at the Festival of Arts and curator of the Community Art Project in Wells Fargo’s Laguna branch, is responsible for the exhibit’s 33 selections.
The images support Redding’s ambition to record the common interests among humans regardless of race, culture or locale.
Grouped by regions, the works will engage every level of viewer sophistication without resembling a National Geographic storyboard. Even though Redding has shown her work since 2008, this is her first curated solo exhibition by the Laguna Beach resident.
“I have included Karen in several multi-media shows but here I could focus on her effort to show the continuity in human nature through images of primitive cultures that are uncontrived and sincere,” said Sparkuhl.
In some instances, Redding writes her subject’s story as she heard it during travels throughout Asia and Africa where she avoided metropolises in favor of roads least traveled, if at all.
“Such travel would be impossible without experienced and sensible guides who understand and support eco-tourism, but one has to be willing to go further and give of oneself. We all have stories to tell and listening to each other shows how much we, especially women, have in common,” said Redding, a clinical social worker and psychoanalyst with a private practice.
For example, she photographed and describes a Laotian woman with wizened eyes, her face criss-crossed by lines of age and a net of faded tattoos. As a 10-year-old, for two days she was required to remain motionless as symbols were carved into her features with a thorn, a practice imposed on young girls to ward off sexual attention by the local king but stopped after Word War II. Scarred for life, the woman concluded that she had made peace with her misfortune and today collects tourist donations that help her village.
Redding also got up close to a trio of pubescent Ethiopian girls whose visible wariness tinged with bravado appears to foreshadow travails of womanhood yet to be experienced. Then again, Redding recalls in a caption the Papuan warrior who got close enough to her to inquire, through gesture and expression, who she was. “Through interpreters I could tell several times what I do at home, and some tribes people saw me as the equivalent of a Shaman or healer,” said Redding.
She focuses closely on her subjects, with no compositional gimmickry or indication of personal judgment. The subjects speak for themselves. At times one might mentally compare her portraits of men in bright geometric war paint with Picasso and Jawlensky paintings and contemplate a seemingly universal need for artistry and adornment. “Viewers can try to capture the rhythm of a culture and get a perspective how it might have evolved into today and draw parallels how human relations work in our society,” said Sparkuhl.
A reception for “Citizens of the Word: Karen Redding,” takes place Saturday, Jan. 26, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., on the second floor of Wells Fargo Bank, 260 Ocean Ave. The exhibit runs through March 15.