A Study on The Representation of Julia Kristeva's Abject Theory in Self Portraits of Contemporary Photographers

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Photography, visual arts faculty,Art university of Tehran,Tehran,Iran

2 Photography, Visual Arts Faculty, Art university of Tehran, Tehran, Iran


Julia Kristeva is a French philosopher, psychoanalyst and literary critic. Most of Kristeva’s Theories are about subjectivity and speaking subjects. In 1982 Kristeva’s essay called “Powers of Horror” was published in English, In this essay she suggested that one of the most important stages of becoming a subject is a process called Abjection. She describes Abjection as a process in which a person throws away anything that represents “other” to ‘’I’’; Kristeva calls this “other” the Abject. Abjection for the first time, happens when a child begins to know the difference between ‘’I’’ and anything else; In this situation the child starts to build borders for “I” and in order to do so, rejects many things like mother and food. In her essay Kristeva states that the abject will always remain a threat for the subject and it waits near the subject’s borders in order to find an opportunity to destroy them. Kristeva suggests that in the past, different religions in societies provided various kinds of rituals to protect their people from the abject ,but with the rise of secularism in modern world, Art has taken over this function. Kristeva believes that in order to protect themselves from the abject, contemporary writers and artists represent the abject in their works while trying to reject it. Because of its provocative nature, the abject has become an interesting subject for artists and has been used by them to convey messages about different problems in the society. In 1993, an exhibition called “Abject Art: Repulsion and Desire in American Art’’ was held at Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; The presented artworks reflected many different issues in the society and  the exhibition was strongly criticized for lacking aesthetic values. The exhibited artworks included paintings, sculptures and photographs. Actually Many contemporary photographers show the abject in their works especially in self-portraits. Self-portrait photography is highly related to the concept of identity and it always has been a way for artists to convey their inner thoughts and issues. By adding the abject to their self-portraits, these artists try to get rid of the abject and make themselves pure. The main goal of this essay is to understand how the abjection theory is applicable to contemporary photographers’ self-portraits and what effects does it have. In order to reach this goal, first a description of the abjection theory and the way it was applied in art and literature is given. After that, a brief description of how the abject is represented in some of the contemporary photographers’ self-portraits is provided. This study concludes that artists have several goals when they represent concepts like abject in their self-portraits. Their first goal is that, they want to show their faults in order to overcome the difficulties they faced and although they have become foreigners to the society they do not want to hide their faults. Another goal of this representation is to challenge the symbolic order in the society and force people to change their old beliefs.


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