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Sense of Self

  • McMullen Gallery 8440 112 Street Northwest Edmonton, AB, T6G 2P4 Canada (map)

We know and understand ourselves and others through our faces. We read facial expressions to appreciate the range of human emotions that others are feeling—hesitation, honesty, sadness, excitement, concern, joy, pain, loss, relief. We observe slight articulations on peoples’ faces or something in their eyes to see what they are thinking (even things they are trying to conceal). We also assess facial characteristics to determine aspects of identity, such as age, gender, and culture. And these characteristics develop as we do, from childhood into adulthood, and from middle age into the older years—always retaining the distinguishing facial features we were recognized by as children.

Understanding and revealing a person’s character and spirit through their face is at the heart of portrait painting. In this exhibition, Sense of Self, the artists have created telling stories about their subjects–their identities, their essence, their experiences–by closely observing and portraying them through portraiture or self-portraiture. Artists Sofia Christanti, Frances Hessels, Ed Hunt, Sara Norquay, and Mary Whale have closely observed others, and themselves, to create images that reflect more than just their literal likeness. The portraits presented in this exhibition invite an empathetic, human sensitivity towards and appreciation of ourselves and others.

These observations provoke questions about how we present ourselves to and how we are perceived. What features on the surface of our skin physically manifest our internal selves, who we are inside and how we feel? Our faces are a dynamic canvas, and the portraits shown in Sense of Self demonstrate what a tellingly vivid, personal, and human canvas we all have.


Sofia Christanti

I was born and raised in Indonesia, receiving a Fine Art degree majored in painting in 2002, and a Master of Business Administration in 2005 from Institute of Technology Bandung or ITB, Indonesia. I immigrated to Canada in 2010, resided in Edmonton for seven years, and moved to Saint John NB in 2018.

I have focused on conceptual art and have been working with many medium like painting, art installation, video art, and art performance during my study. My interest subject matters are human behaviour, popular culture, feminist study, philosophy, political and social issues, culture, nature and its relationship that happens in my daily life. I believe in research and planning to embody my artworks, and it is my way to decide what medium, style, and technique that suits to develop the subject matter.

Creating artworks has increased my awareness, given me mental and spiritual therapy, deeper meaning to what and how I see the world, to see the beauty in reality.

I like to share the wisdom of my art journey. In my perspective, living with creative thinking gives life more joy, mindfulness, softness, and wisdom.


Frances Hessels’s People of Alberta

The collection, as the name implies, represents the people in our province. They are of ordinary people going about their ordinary lives. It is a very important subject since people are arguably our province's most valuable resource. The faces of Alberta are changing with the immigration of people from all over the world. I try to represent this diversity by painting people from various walks of life, cultural backgrounds, age groups and both genders. The paintings are realistic in presentation, in colour and form, and I attempt to present each subject with respect and empathy.


Ed Hunt

My name is Ed Hunt and I am an Edmonton Artist. I am also a cancer survivor and liver transplant recipient. Because of my time in the Alberta Healthcare System and at the University of Alberta Hospital, I was a Volunteer Artist on the Ward with the Friends of University Hospitals. My time as a Volunteer taught me about life, death and illness, and that being a witness to these things is important to an understanding of my own life as an organ transplant recipient. This is my statement about my life, twelve (12) years out from transplant. This is a celebration, and thereby acceptance, of the flaws of my life.

Sara Norquay’s “Citizen of the World”

This project portrays individuals of our human collective (community, society, humanity) in an extended present tense. This body of work has several stages: photographing the subject, making a linocut print, and sending each subject a print of their portrait. They include people from all over the world: family members, friends, and acquaintances. The subjects agree to be photographed for the project, choose how they want to be photographed, and select the photo they wish me to use.

“Citizen of the World” addresses several issues. The initial visual presentation of so many faces can be seen as a portrait of humanity. Who gets to be a citizen of the world? We all do. There are no qualifications or credentials required. But the individual prints reveal diversity within the collective. As our identities are bound up with our ideas of difference and uniqueness, these prints challenge the viewer. Are they examples of portraiture and identity or merely likeness and representation?

The reaction of my subjects to their portraits has been mixed. For some, the graphic nature of linocuts challenges their notion of what they look like. Some find the abstraction of non-photographic images difficult to appreciate. Depicting a person’s face in a photograph is often considered “more true” than a picture in another medium. However, all mediums bring their own distortions and visual qualities to a subject. What is lost and gained when a person’s face, though captured in a photograph, is represented in a linocut?

The interpretive nature of the viewer’s relationship to each subject also adds to the discussion of what these portraits mean together and individually. We see the work through the lens of our personal experiences, ideas and culture. For me personally, the portraits bring forth memories and emotions attached to each of the subjects. Each is someone I know or have spent time with, even if only for a single conversation. While cutting the plate, I am thinking of that individual. To be thought about by others is a kind of blessing. I hope this accumulative act contributes to the energy of goodwill in the world.


Mary Whale

I am an artist and nurse, a symbiotic relationship that has enriched my life. As a nurse, my job is to empower people throughout their lifespan to realize their potential wellness. As an artist, my aesthetic goal with the elderly is to exalt the beauty of ageing in a youth-oriented society.

It is often difficult to find enough balance to appreciate the wellness in aging.  It has been my nursing experience that many older adults are faced with a grim reality of dwindling socio-economic supports and declining health as they age.  I see people struggling and often succumbing to a body they no longer control.  I see people losing their independence and freedom.  I see people losing their family, friends and homes. 

I often struggle to find any hope for them, and yet feel buoyed by their apparent resilience. I must remember that I only see those that are struggling; the vast majority of older people realize their lives on their own terms.

As an artist, I am moved by the titillating nature of asymmetry and imperfection. I see the beauty, the poignancy, the drama, and the authenticity. That is what I hope the viewer sees.

Earlier Event: August 23
Music is Medicine with Carrie Day
Later Event: August 30
Music is Medicine with Rob Heath