Promoting a badass artistic persona through photographic self-portraiture has been a tried-and-true artistic strategy since Marcel Duchamp posed in drag, coyly peering over his fur stole, almost a century ago. Think of Valie Export confronting the camera with a cigarette jutting jauntily from her lips, or Lynda Benglis’s brazen advertisement featuring an image of her greased nude body flaunting a giant dildo. But Brooklyn-based artist Brina Thurston’s mixed-media self-portrait Eggplants adds an unexpected dimension—literally—to the practice. Sporting black Wayfarers and a nonchalant pose, the artist stands in an undisclosed urban location, topless, looking off into the distance with a slight smile on her lips. Her upraised arm shields her gaze from the glare of the sun while exposing the curve of her figure. Her breasts are obscured by two pendulous aubergines planted on the surface of the photograph, as if the black-and-white image had been censored by Archimboldo. The viewer’s gaze is immediately drawn to the rich deep purple hue and the smooth glossy surfaces of these sensuously sloping implants. The three-dimensional forms protrude into the viewer’s space, inviting a closer look—or perhaps a feel. The addition of organic matter reinvests the frozen photographic image with a sense of duration while, as the artist puts it, “rotting away the sentimentality of the nude female figure.” The eggplants shrivel and shrink over time, not unlike the transformations awaiting a real female body. As they decay, more flesh is exposed, so that the photograph seems to conduct a slow striptease. With humor and humility, Thurston has managed to produce a photographic image that is as fallible as the human body.

Priya Bhatnagar is a writer based in New York.

caption: Brina Thurston, Eggplants, 2007. Digital C-print and eggplant. Courtesy of the artist.