Arts: Drawing From Memory

A new exhibit delves into the process of perception.


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If your friends or co-workers were asked to describe you, how similar would their depictions be? This is the question at the heart of a new exhibit, “Drawn to Remember,” which starts Feb. 9 at The Contemporary Museum at First Hawaiian Center.

The artist Dana Forsberg, as depicted through descriptions given to an HPD sketch artist.

The project is the work of Honolulu-based artist Dana Forsberg. Forsberg chose five subjects and for each person, found six people who knew him or her from a different vantage point—such as roommate, spouse or coworker. Each described the subject to a police sketch artist. The resulting drawings vary quite a bit, showing how communication skills, emotions and power of recall all come into play.

“The work wasn’t so much about the police sketch part,” notes Forsberg. “I was thinking about memories and perception. Photos always seem more real, while drawings or illustrations are more of an interpretation. I wasn’t trying to say, ‘This is how the person looks,’ but how fluid our memory is.”

Forsberg is a photographer, and says that she’s long been interested in exploring the topic of perception. Korean by birth, she was adopted as a baby by Caucasian Americans, and grew up in Europe. When she encountered stereotypes about her race, she says, “I’d wonder, where does this come from?”

Police graphic artist Joe Aragon has worked for the Honolulu Police Department for 33 years, and says the project appealed to him because it gave him a different avenue of creativity.

“A lot of what I do is interviewing techniques, gaining rapport with someone. I ask questions to get the seven basic characteristics of the human face: the shape of the head, hairstyle, ears, eyebrows, eyes, nose and mouth.” Is it normal for drawings of the same person to vary so much? Absolutely, he says. “It’s how the witness received the information. It’s your state of mind.”

The exhibit is free, and on display until May 29.

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