Between 2006 and 2007 I produced an extensive series of watercolour drawings of a pair of conjoined twins. Ladan and Laleh Bijani were born as craniopagus conjoined twins in 1974 in Southern Iran. Although they had separate limbs and bodies Ladan and Laleh’s heads were fused at the skull. In 2003, when they were 29 years old, they underwent separation surgery and died from complications during the surgery.
Although the drawings represent these particular women’s faces, this work is not biographical. I want to acknowledge the fact that these women were real, but I can’t possibly represent the specificity of their experience.
The drawings meditate on both the physical and psychic relationship between these twins and how this relates to a range of circumstances within my own life. This work focuses on a concept of experience that is deeply relational, where the boundaries between self and other can’t be clearly articulated. It provided me with an opportunity to meditate on our cultural anxiety about what constitutes personhood, singularity and the difference between self and other. Principals of individuality and autonomy are called into question by two individuals whose anatomies challenge notions of individuality.
While the drawings represent faces, and can therefore be described as portraits, they reject the idea of a portrait as a fixed, singular image, and instead represent an ambiguous, shifting field of interaction and interpretation.
Notions of ambiguity are well expressed within the medium of watercolour, in which the singular mark is deemphasized and the form merges with the ground to articulate an image. Through a process of repetition and accumulation, as well as the vagaries of the techniques and materials used, the drawings of the twins’ faces shift and transform in ways that are both engaging and repulsive. These transformations imply the changes that occur within lived experience, as well as the externalization of our psychic projections.