In 2011, I received a Fulbright fellowship for my project entitled “Creating a Portraiture of the Indigenous Inhabitants of Taiwan.” In this project, I traveled to 33 places in Taiwan, primarily aboriginal villages. I persuaded 888 people from diverse socioeconomic groups to sit for watercolor portraits that I made from direct observation using a camera lucida, a device for drawing that dates back to the Renaissance and promotes a two-way exchange between artist and subject. These 888 watercolor portraits and the oil paintings of aboriginal teenage boys that I made after returning to the studio formed the core of an installation called “888” that also includes a documentary video, large-scale projections of the subjects presenting their portraits accompanied by tribal music, a talking interactive virtual sketchbook of the 888 portraits, and a mural-size map charting the date and location of each portrait’s production. This installation was presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York.
The intense personal responses that the exhibition provoked from viewers inspired me to pursue more excursions. Subsequent chapters of The Itinerant Portraitist have included girls in the Dar Zayed Orphanage in the United Arab Emirates, taxicab drivers in Cuba, artists in Brooklyn, and elderly and disabled residents of a nursing home in the Bronx.
Brenda Zlamany – Fulbright to Taiwan 2011