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Chelsea Manning's Gallery Debut to Showcase DNA Self-Portraits She Made in Prison

Chelsea Manning
Photography: Glenn Garner

For her A Becoming Resemblance exhibition, the trans activist teamed with artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg.

Chelsea Manning is a hero, a whistleblower, and a trans activist. Now, we can add "artist" to her list of accomplishments because, in the final two years of her seven-year prison sentence for her involvement with WikiLeaks, she was working on an art project that involved her own DNA.

Related | Chelsea Manning Rides in New York Pride

The result of this years-long project is a series of "DNA portraits" that Manning created in collaboration with Brooklyn-based artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg. The exhibition, called A Becoming Resemblance, is set to debut on August 2nd at at the Fridman Gallery in Manhattan and will feature 30 3-D printed portraits of Manning's face.

The entire project was made possible thanks to Manning's idea to send samples of her DNA out of prison in the mail. According to the artist, Manning gave to her lawyer envelopes filled with samples of her hair and cheek swabs. While this may have been a new process for Manning, this isn't Dewey-Hagborg's first DNA rodeo. The artist had already created 3-D portraits of strangers through discarded cigarette butts, pieces of gum, and hair found on the streets of New York.


"Radical Love, Chelsea Manning" (2016) by Heather Dewey-Hagborg

As she waited out her prison sentence, Manning found a voice in the art project at a time when discrimination against her and her gender transition was at its height. "Prisons try very hard to make us inhuman and unreal by denying our image, and thus our existence, to the rest of the world," Manning said in a statement. "Imagery has become a kind of proof of existence. The use of DNA in art provides a cutting edge and a very postmodern--almost 'post-postmodern'--analysis of thought, identity, and expression."

Related | Chelsea Manning Opens Up in First Interview Since Release From Prison

When the exhibition opens on August 2nd, it will be historic not only because of Manning's international reputation, but also because it will be the first time the activist will see the portraits she's been giving her DNA to for two years in person, according to Dewey-Hagborg.

A Becoming Resemblance is on show at New York's Fridman Gallery from August 2 to September 5, 2017.

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