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The Girl with No Shadow

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Date Minted: July 21 (my birthday 🥰), 2020

Artist Description:  “There’s no such thing as magic,” I said. “Then call it something else.” She shrugged. “Call it attitude, if you like. Call it charisma, or chutzpah, or glamour, or charm. Because basically it’s just about standing straight, looking people in the eye, shooting them a killer smile, and saying, fuck off, I’m fabulous.” ― Joanne Harris, The Girl with No Shadow

CohentheWriter’s Commentary:

The Girl with No Shadow is all color. Color and light and soft movement, the gentle sway of green trees and the placid shamble of thin clouds, a natural world en media res. There is a deep peace to The Girl with no Shadow, one in which intonations of dread fail to evoke any stark negative sensation, just as shadows upon the ground don’t necessarily portend bad tidings. Perhaps there’s an unfair Western-centrism inherent in my reading of this piece, one where blue skies and tropical flora perpetually paint a picture of bliss and relaxation. It’s a damaging stereotype, one which does not take into consideration the very real hardships and horrors befallen on those born into tropical lifestyles, and instead smatters them into a background assumption about resorts and manicured beaches and jet-skis. The main figure within The Girl with no Shadow stands in front of what looks to be a favela or shanty-dwelling, unmoved by the warm air and exotic plants around her. The Girl herself is hardly even a Girl, more a collection of ambiguous limbs housed in a vaguely human form. An abstraction herself, she is colored all in black, constructed from fuzzy shapes that could be construed, in a certain light, for a revolutionary soldier’s garb, and vaguely inhuman at her edges. To even call her a “She,” seems itself somewhat assumptive and appropriative, in perhaps a similar sense as the situation above. But The Girl nevertheless stands starkly over the piece, absorbing its foreground, dominating its composition, an imposing image laid over an otherwise lazing landscape. She holds a pink, twirling heart in her hand, stuck up on a stick like a lollipop. “Is it her own heart,”I find myself asking? “And what is she about to do with it?”

Just for a moment, let’s return to the piece’s composition, and the black figure who dominates it. This figure, this Girl, takes up one-third of the piece, fracturing an otherwise passive landscape. Yes, when looking at the clouds and leaves and trees long enough, one sees that they are strange and unreal and possess a melting quality, presenting only the illusion of movement without any actual landscape change. But even with the discomfiting effects of clouds replacing clouds, tree branches appearing to move but really only disappearing at their edges, there is an island ennui communicated. Unlike the rest of the piece, the black figure does not seem static. Even though she remains unmoving, the interaction of her various internal colors —all nebulous and barely differentiated by their dark shades— is unpredictable and mysterious. The cuffs and folds of her dress tend to blend into one another and then burst, suddenly visible, later. She becomes more human the longer you look at her in some places, and less human in others. She’s faceless, but she’s got two legs. Her right arm appears to bifurcate, yet she stands with shoulders realistically slouched. She’s neither real or unreal. She’s neither the glue that holds this piece together or a major disruptor in it. She contains aspects of the destitute background, aspects of the placid nature around her, aspects of her own inherently engimatic nature.

The Girl with No Shadow is an interesting title for the piece, as it makes us imagine a person with no visible effect on their location. If they have no shadow, they are not absorbing light; it is going right through them, ignoring her, implying that she’s more ghost than human. But the Artist Description beside the piece does not seem to suggest someone weak or downtrodden, but instead someone strong, bold, a person of action and spunk and power. Does that new context change the image we’re seeing? Is the Girl actually standing defiantly in front of her background, not a part of it but above it? Birthed by the background, she could be pushing out from it, her final form still undecided, with the “charisma, or chutzpah, or glamour, or charm” of the Artist Description actively shaping her. 

Continuing on that thought, this piece is pervaded by a sense of incompletion. Though most obvious in the figure of the girl, her rough and undecided edges and indefinable features, it is there in the moving-but-unmoving natural images —objects without the sanctity of clear edges, with no obvious demarcation between them and the world around them, which they appear to leak out into— and in the ambiguous structure in the background. Nothing is finished here, or certain, or clear. The closer we are to things, the less there is to specifically identify. So much proves insubstantial. Could this be the implication of having no shadow? A shadow is an exact thing, right? It’s a hyper-specific reaction to light being blocked by solid mass. It is beholden to the statistical and decimal-place accuracy of all scientific processes. So here, without shadows, is the opposite true?

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