Last week, during the opening of the 2019 Venice Biennale, artists Cindy Sherman and Catherine Opie unveiled their collaborative project: a series of contemporary cameos carved from shells, based on their personal photographs. The artists teamed-up with jewelry designer Liz Swig from Liz Works on a line of nine pieces including rings, earrings, cufflinks, and pendants. The series is simply titled “Cameo.”
Opie’s cameos represent themes of motherhood, family, and identity. “I’ve always been interested in the relationship to object making even within the photographic medium,” Opie says in the project’s press release. “A cameo is something that can be worn every day that doesn’t hang on a wall — the piece becomes more sculptural than a photograph with texture and dimension.”
“The artworks I selected are very personal to me and my connection to my family,” Opie added. “In the process of making the photographs into three-dimensional objects, I thought of images that would be visually compelling, but also iconic works of mine as an artist.”
Sherman, who began sharing her work on Instagram in 2017, presents cameos based on her social media posts. “I like cameos, especially the idea of dark, strange ones. I also like the idea of tiny objects being art,” Sherman told Whitewall.
The artist explained that turning her Instagram photos into cameos “seemed like a good project” because her cell phone files aren’t large enough to be blown-up into photographs. “It’ll make it more fun to wear [the photos] as a piece of art,” she wrote.
The release adds that Sherman’s works “invite us to consider the cameo as the original selfie.”
Cameos date back to Ancient Greece, when portraits of ancient gods were carved into agate. In Ancient Rome, shell cameos featured portraits of emperors.
Opie and Sherman’s works are hand-carved in Italy in small editions under the supervision of Gino Di Luca, a third-generation cameo maker in Torre del Greco, a town known for its production of shell cameos.