“What is beautiful is loved, and what is not is unloved,” wrote the ancient Greek poet Theognis, encapsulating the reverence for youth and physical and moral beauty in Archaic Greece—a reverence that carries through to 21st-century American culture, albeit in different form. In Archaic Greece, the kouros figure, a standing male youth of perfect proportions, was the physical embodiment of this worldview. Displayed as dedications to the gods in temples and as grave monuments, the kouros and its ideals serve as inspiration for contemporary mixed-media artist Sasha Meret, who has transformed the African-American albino supermodel, Shaun Ross, into an archetype of youth, beauty, and nobility for our time, in a new series of photographs on view at IFAC Arts, in “Sasha Meret: American Kouros.”
Shot in color and black-and-white against an inky-black background, Shaun Ross appears as an otherworldly being, at once flesh and stone. The pale softness of his bare skin is offset by the props he wears or holds: birdlike head and shoulder pieces and masks, a snakelike ring, and a fat, tropical flower, all composed of metal or plastic cutlery and kitchenware. In American Kouros Four (2014), his head and half of his face are engulfed in an exuberant headdress of glinting silver knives, spoons, and bowls. He arches forward, one arm bent back like a bird’s wing, as if he is about to take flight. A circle of spoons, like reptilian scales, rings his body in American Kouros Eight, Fourteen, and Fifteen (all 2014), offsetting his lean, angular musculature and smooth skin, and cleverly referencing the circular lens of the camera that takes his picture, out of viewers’ sight. In American Kouros Nineteen and Twenty (both 2014), he cradles a lush flower composed entirely of plastic forks and spoons, his body powdered and lit to match the plastic’s bright whiteness, effectively complicating perceptions of his race; is he black, white, both, neither?
The Greek kouros, too, was colorless, as well as identity-less. It was not a portrait of a specific individual, but of an ideal. By emphasizing the formal qualities of Shaun Ross’s physique, Meret transforms him from a unique, well-known individual into a symbol of 21st-century aesthetic ideals, and their beautiful complications.
“Sasha Meret: American Kouros” is on view at IFAC Arts, New York, June 26 – August 26, 2014.
Credits: Shaun Ross, Model; Cristian Balint, Photography; Larissa Modenesi, Creative Director; Seevon Chau, Makeup Artist.