contemporary art / history of art

Artwork of the Month / October 2022

Someone to Love – Edith Piaf
Cristina Nuñez

40 cm x 60 cm
Inkjet print in fine art Hahnemuhle Baryta
Edition of 6 + 2 p.a.

Cristina Nuñez’ photo “Someone to Love – Edith Piaf” shows a woman with uplifted hands and an open mouth. She contracts her eyebrows so that wrinkles appear on the forehead. This gesture of lamentation is underlined by the black shirt and background. On one hand, the dark environment is a contrast to the skin colour and highlights gesture and expression. On the other hand, it emphasis the tragic emotion.

The present photo is part of the series “Someone to Love” (1988-2011), where the artist explores herself and her history. With this research in her past, she made her deep injuries photographically visible. However, with the time, Cristina wanted to find more beautiful images of her pain and sorrow. If intentionally or unconsciously, she adopted typical gestures, to express her grief. These might be innate to human beings and are often illustrated, be it in the mass media in the context of mourning scenes, perhaps even with professional mourners or in art history. A typical subject, which shows deep sorrow are the many Lamentations of the Christ. Even though, the suffering of the bystanders is often dignified and less expressive, there are other examples. Every now and then persons appear, mostly women, who rise both hands in despair about the event. There is for example Albrecht Dürer’s ink drawing from 1521. Here the grieving woman has the hands even more uplifted than Cristina in her self-portrait does. However, the mourner is bended sideward forward, but in the opposite direction as in the photo. Due to the collective knowledge of expressions of pain and sorrow, we can easily identify the depicted feelings in the presented picture.

Cristina added “Edith Piaf” to the series title. Herewith, she refers to the famous French singer with this name, who she adores. Besides the personal homage, there are elements that recall the chanteuse. Already the subjects of her songs – often about love, loss and sorrow – tell about suffering. Looking at photos of la Môme Piaf (the little sparrow) the resemblance becomes evident. Already the black dressing and the short wavy hair bears similarities. Moreover, the French singer’s gestures during her performances were often expressive and it is easy to find pictures of her with outstretched arms. Even her portrait in wax has a similar posture. Furthermore, interpreters of Edith Piaf’s songs and actors playing her in films often uplift their hands similarly. Therefore, it is not surprising that Cristina called her photo after the late French singer, even though she did not intentionally imitate her during the shooting. In fact, the artist photographed herself in different emotional states. Besides sorrow and lamentation, there are photos of anger, despair and many other emotions.

The series “Someone to Love” consists of private self-portraits, partly combined with significant images of her ancestors and portraits of her family. Moreover, there are self-portraits of other people, who questioned themselves alike Cristina. Additionally, there are two films. For Cristina, the long-lasting research of her inner self was a method to overcome her negative self-esteem, to shape her own emotions and reveal her presence in the world. As exhibition, the series was first on view at the “Mois de la Photo” in Montreal in 2011 and later travelled to Madrid and Barcelona. Latest, it was presented in the Maria Livia Brunelli Gallery in Ferrara in January 2022 and partly at the Bolognese Arte Fiera in May 2022. Under the title Self-Portrait Experience (SPEX), the artist invites since 2004 other people to traverse a similar way as a sort of therapy. Herewith, she is converting suffering into art.


Cristina Nuñez

Born in 1962 in Spain, Cristina Nuñez worked as model in her youth. After having overcome her drug addiction, she lived with her partner, a photographer, in Italy. Inspired by his work, she started in 1988 to make self-portraits. In the beginning, it was a kind of self-therapy to surmount her negative self-esteem in moments of crisis. In doing so, she explored and stimulated her creative identity. During the pregnancy with her first child, her restlessness diminished, so that she was able to take pictures of other persons. This work lead to her first photographic project “Body and Soul” in 1994, where she took pictures of people lying naked on her bed. In 1995, the series was awarded by the Marangoni Foundation in Florence and exhibited there.

Also in 1995, Cristina completed her project “To Hell and Back”, where she juxtaposed portraits of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust and pictures of concentration camps. As exhibition, the photos were shown in several cities in Italy and in Spain and Portugal. Moreover, they were published in a book of the same name in Italy. The following project was “Heaven on Earth”, a journey through European spirituality. For this purpose, the artist photographed worshippers and their environment from the three main monotheistic religions in Europe from 1996 to 1998. She visited the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, Christian Orthodox nuns in Romania, Catholics in Southern Ireland, Muslims in Bosnia and Lubabitsch Jews in Italy. Granted by the Ministry of Culture of Luxembourg in 1996, the series was exhibited at the Biennale of Skopelos in Greece, in 2001.

Besides these projects, Cristina continued her self-portraits. Additionally, she took double-portraits with her daughter to analyse their relationship. In 2007, she started to focus on her family and their history. She made diptychs and triptychs with her self-portraits and photos of her ancestors. Herein, the exploration of her relationship to her in 1998 deceased father was important. Moreover, she accompanied her mother during her last years with dementia. Photography became an essential media of communication between the two women and lead to self-portraits made by her mother, which were also integrated in the artist’s oeuvre.

Many of these private autobiographic works became public under the title “Someone to Love” in 2011. A film, where Cristina recounts her history is also part of the project. The photo “Someone to Love – Edith Piaf” from 2009 is our artwork of the month in October 2022. This lamentation is also a homage to the French singer. The ensemble was first presented in Montreal. Later, the exhibition went to several cities in Europe.

Feeling the positive effect of expressing her emotional states in front of a camera, Cristina shared the experience of therapeutic photography with others. Under the title “The Self-Portrait Experience” (SPEX), she started in 2004 to give workshops in various institutions around the world. Her intended audience are adolescents, prisoners, elderly and sick people, persons recovered from addiction, hence, people in research of their identity. Therefore, she also gives workshops during leadership or corporate trainings. Additionally, individuals like artists, photographers, therapists, leaders, university students and the general public are invited to learn her unique self-portrait method.

Besides photography, Cristina made several films. One example is the ongoing project “La Vie en Rose”. With the purpose to find the ideal partner, the artist reveals her defects and weaknesses. Once again, it is an autobiographic project and a therapeutic research. She films public actions and performances to publish them on a web platform. Here the visitors, both men and women are invited to participate.

Moreover, Cristina published several personal photobooks and contributed to others. Since 1995, she had many solo exhibitions all over Europe and participated in numerous group shows. Her work was granted by many international institutions and is presented in several collections all over Europe. In 2020, she obtained a PhD by Published Works on her practice and SPEX at the College of Arts and Humanities, University of Derby, UK.

Cristina lives and works in France.