Sisterhood Seen

Rebbekah Ogden and Laura Vaughters holding a portrait

Photo: Photo courtesy of Rebbekah Ogden

Sisterhood Seen

Collaborative art show explores the social masks of nine sisters

“I don’t think I’ve ever fought with anybody in my life like I have with Laura,” says painter Rebbekah Ogden, reflecting on her relationship with her sister, photographer Laura Vaughters. “At the same time, there’s no one in the world that I can honestly really click with like I can with her, because we’ve had so many fights.”

Sisterly connection is at the heart of Ogden and Vaughters’s collaborative show, Sisters: Seeing Beyond the Mask, and it goes further than the two of them. The exhibit features all nine sisters in their family, each one captured both in a photograph by Vaughters and a painting by Ogden.

The idea for the show originated when Ogden, who is based in Calgary, recorded herself painting one of Vaughters’s self-portraits. Not only did the video attract more than three million views, but Vaughters and Ogden were inspired by how pairing two artistic media tapped into underlying truths. The question arose: Do you think we could do this with all the sisters?

Luckily, every sister agreed. And it was a big ask, too, because this was no ordinary portrait session.

Uncovering the social mask

Before the photo shoot, Ogden and Vaughters put together creative briefs on each of their sisters’ “social masks,” or the role they adopt when presenting themselves to the world, which often hides a truer and more vulnerable self. “I believe our social masks are there to help us, protect us … and let us go and be courageous and brave,” Ogden says. For example, her social mask is the Clown. “I love making people laugh,” she says. “The more vulnerable or the more awkward the situation is, then the more freely jokes come to me.” But underneath that mask, Ogden admits to being introverted and shy. Other examples of social masks on display in the show are Cutesy, Caretaker, Independence and Warrior.

Social masks aren’t inherently positive or negative, but they are powerful. Ogden continues to grapple with the idea of revealing other people’s social masks, particularly after struggling to find the right social mask for her older sister, Jessica, and seeing her sister Emma turn tearful during the shoot. While Ogden feels it’s important for people to understand their own social masks, she wonders, “Is it necessary to be identifying it in other people? Is it safe?”

Sisterhood and being seen

If anything, this project has only brought Ogden closer to her sisters. With Vaughters, it was a return to an earlier stage of their artistic journey, when Ogden painted from Vaughters’ reference photos more frequently. Using both photos and paintings in the show gives viewers the perspectives of two different artists.

As the painter, Ogden had the freedom to change elements to suit her vision for each portrait. “There’s so much control I have in dictating mood and emotion just in the colours that I can get to choose,” she says. And while photography involves its own editing process, “when you’re taking a photograph, you’re exposing what is already there, and the honesty has to be in the subject that you’re shooting.”

She describes her sisters’ involvement in the project as a gift. In return for their vulnerability, Vaughters and Ogden wanted each sister to feel seen. Ogden hopes the show inspires people to have deeper conversations with their loved ones. “There’s that saying, let people know while they’re alive that you love them,” says Ogden. “ And I also think, let people know while they’re alive that you know them.”

Sisters: Seeing Beyond the Mask runs until August 31, 2024 at Akokiniskway Gallery at 348 Martin Ave. in Rosebud, Alberta. See Rebbekah’s behind-the-scenes video docuseries of the exhibit on her YouTube channel.

Photo of artist standing over their self portrait painting

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