Samantha Everton: Indochine

‘Indochine’ explores the intersection of cross-cultural influences and traditions in the guise of a single, female sitter. Informed by her multicultural upbringing, Samantha Everton examines the intrusion of Western culture within Asian customs and the contemporary struggle for authenticity amid conflicting cultural pressures. By embedding symbolic elements within her photographs, the artist offers clues to underlying narratives of fragility and adaptability, vulnerability and resilience, compliance and resolute self-expression.

The series reflects Everton’s commitment to ‘photographic authenticity’ and her reputation for ambitious production processes. Taking on a Hollywood studio approach to her practice, the artist meticulously staged her scenes with sourced and commissioned couture outfits (Edwardian, Tudor and Elizabethan collars, cheongsams and headdresses by Cirque du Soleil costume designers and Greek milliners), handcrafted jewellery and props such as a yellow albino Burmese python (paying homage to Britney Spears) and decorative, floral wallpaper. ‘Everything I create is in camera,’ says the artist. ‘I’m in front of the camera; fine-tuning and refining every aspect of the detailed and elaborate sets before the shutter is pressed.’ Shot in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, over an 18-month period, ‘Indochine’ is an extension of Everton’s studio concepts – storyboards; sketches, print and cutouts, montages of colour and inspiration that fill her entire lounge room (studio). ‘Once every item is sourced, made, designed or commissioned, I then bring this all together in one set,’ says Everton, who insists that her work is ‘organised spontaneity’. ‘My photographs are staged, but still capture a unique moment in time, whether it be the expression from my model and her interaction with the situation or the movement of the animal in the shoot. I carefully construct the elements of the scene to allow that moment to occur.’

Samantha Everton, Jacquerie, 2018, edition of 8, pigment ink on canson rag, 85 x 117cm. Courtesy the artist and Anthea Polson Art, Queensland

The convergence of Western and Eastern cultures has precipitated a gradual shift in the physical and psychological appearance of women over the centuries. Everton charts these gender-oriented alterations through her lone protagonist; an ambi-cultural femme fatale whose characterisation forms a critical stance toward colonialisation as well as repressive gender and racial politics – in particular, femininity within a Franco-Asian setting:

‘There is one woman taking on a chameleon-like appearance throughout this series of work. The protagonist of ‘Indochine’ is literally morphing and adapting herself to each environment. How much we keep or let go of in our environment is a decision we as individual women make every day. These images enlarge those conflicts on a grand scale and tell the same story at the level of a nation, which must also form its own identity over a much longer timescale.

Samantha Everton, Truong Son, 2018, edition of 8, pigment ink on canson rag, 85 x 117cm. Courtesy the artist and Anthea Polson Art, Queensland

The femme fatale is a strong character, but one which usually carries negative connotations. Yet as she evolves in ‘Indochine’, she gradually develops a confidence and self-assuredness that sees her forming her own unique identity out of the cultures in which she is immersed. When viewed as a whole, ‘Indochine’ carries a message of hope that we as individuals, and as a society, can ultimately transcend the influences that have helped form us; even while not entirely escaping their control. We can gain control of our own identity and destiny.’

The implicit language, theatricality and beauty of Everton’s mise-en-scènes evoke and suggest, rather than reveal or expose. The model in Troung Son (2018) – wearing a loose, red collared blouse and sporting a pink bob – rests one arm across her body with a cigarette in the other. Her nonchalant posture prompts her head to tilt to the side; she exhales. A small puff of white smoke reinforces her contemporary, punk attitude while her direct gaze reclaims her sexuality and the acceptance of who she has become. Likewise, in Jacquerie (2018), a tropical parrot prepares to take flight from the woman’s hand, its arc-coloured feathers fanning out across her face. Implicit in its title, this work depicts a revolt – a rise from the traditional submissive figure to a more confident woman, reassured by the model’s unwavering stare.

Everton’s images are continuous, void of any start and end. They suggest that there’s more to come and encourage the viewer to question, ‘what next?’

Melissa Pesa is a Sydney-based arts writer.

Anthea Polson Art
16 to 30 June, 2018