Cooper & Gorfer

Sarah Cooper: American, 1974–present, Nina Gorfer: Austrian,1979–present

In their art, Cooper and Gorfer interweave reality and fiction. Based on the stories and lives of the women they portray, the artists reimagine the tradition of portraiture by deconstructing the narrative of their protagonists. Cooper & Gorfer’s works are not only startling in their beauty; on the contrary, replete with symbolism they speak about identity, feminism, heritage and the environment and experiences that shape us. With the point of departure in photography, their work moves through painstakingly detailed collages and away from classical and documentary photography. The duo’s narrative portraits are both realistic in terms of connections to human history, memories, time and space; as much as they exude surreal worlds where staged colourful scenes of tactile textiles, materials and textures are layered on top of the physical body. The complexities of their subjects are reflected in the fragmentation of Cooper & Gorfer’s surfaces, giving their works an often painterly feeling.

As much audience as creators, Cooper & Gorfer’s own experiences are intertwined with those of the women they portray, resulting in images in which several epochs are simultaneously represented. Like art history’s Mannerists and Surrealists, Cooper and Gorfer strain observable reality through the narrative filter of a woman’s life, showing us the personal and collective memories that shape her.

Their diverse backgrounds notwithstanding, Cooper & Gorfer share a common interest in cultural identity and visual storytelling. With their base in Sweden, they have worked closely together since 2006. The wealth of detail in their works is also reflected in their publications that, in equal parts, consist of photographs, texts, diary entries and sketches. Their work is included in several museum collections including The National Gallery of Iceland. Cooper & Gorfer are Hasselblad Ambassadors, and were awarded the German Photo Book Award in 2018.