The British artist Simon Fujiwara is teaming up with the unlikeliest of collaborators for his latest work: a former teacher at his old school, Joanne Salley, who was once the subject of a tabloid newspaper scandal. Fujiwara is due to present a film depicting the life and trials of Salley at the Photographers’ Gallery in London this autumn (7 October-8 January 2017).
Salley, former Miss Northern Ireland, artist and TV presenter—now an amateur boxer and part-time model—was, says Fujiwara, “an inspirational figure” when she taught him at Harrow School in Middlesex, London, in 2000. She hit the headlines in 2011 when pupils distributed private topless photographs of her taken by a female photography teacher on a memory stick left in a school studio.
“As a former pupil of hers, Joanne reached out to me,” Fujiwara says. “She realised that art is where she could project the complexity of her story, as she feels misrepresented. I am not a media company; I can't remake her image. I’m presenting many different kinds of mirrors [on her life].”
As part of the film, Salley and Fujiwara returned to the public school for the first time since her departure. Fujiwara says that she was instrumental in shaping his vision during his time there. “As my teacher, Joanne helped me understand the problematic nature of beauty, representation and identity. She taught me the tools I am now using to create a video portrait of her."
In an era of social media, “hyper self-representation” and image saturation, the piece explores public identity and personal privacy as well as raising questions about "how empathy works", Fujiwara says.
The artist is known for his provocative and mischievous pieces. In his installation, Welcome to the Hotel Munber (2008-10), Fujiwara recreated a Spanish bar decked out with phallic objects: sausages, baguettes, bullhorns and gay pornography. Part autobiography, part fiction, the bar becomes the set for an “erotic narrative”, in which the artist casts his father as the gay protagonist.
Joanne (2016) was commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella, The Photographers’ Gallery and the Ishikawa Foundation, and is supported by Arts Council England.
Correction: The headline has been corrected as Joanne Salley resigned from her teaching post, rather than being dismissed.