Moriah Faith Gilbert ’20 recently won her first international prize for a self-portrait titled "Tough Love."
The subject of Moriah Faith Gilbert’s paintings is something she used to hate: her own body.
“When I was younger, I stopped even recognizing who I was in the mirror,” says the 2020 graduate, who uses Moriah Faith as her professional name. “I didn’t really feel like that person.”
The source of that struggle began when Faith was diagnosed with a chronic illness in middle school.
“Dealing with illness a lot of my life has changed how I interact with my body,” she says. Plus, “I struggled with an eating disorder for a while, so I spent a lot of time trying to disappear.”
At five feet tall, however, Faith’s paintings do anything but disappear. With a palette of dark, earth shades mixed with spring greens as well as flesh tones all layered thick in oil paint, the self-portraits plumb the artist’s own self exploration.
“Painting myself has been really interesting and difficult — it’s a way in which I sit with myself without judging myself at all,” says Faith.
With days and weeks in hospitals and isolated at home, she turned to painting, using photos of herself as a guide. Yet as a fine arts major at Lesley, Faith’s instructors encouraged her to return to the mirror instead. The reflection she once avoided has now given her work more immediacy and presence, and her senior thesis could not be timelier.
Titled “Isolation Portraits,” the paintings center on Faith’s experience with chronic illness and isolation, both becoming more relevant with the advent of the coronavirus.
“If anything, I think the pandemic has made my thesis work more relatable to everyone else,” she says. “We’re all just trying to deal with how we’re isolated. It’s pretty interesting to start that project about isolation and to finish it in isolation.”
A painting from the series called “Tough Love” recently took second place in the Federation of Canadian Artists Annual International Representational Exhibition. One of Faith’s smaller pieces at 30”x24”, the painting is a close portrait of the artist’s face as it slowly dissolves on one side obscuring her ear and cheek bone and eroding her left eye.
Faith shipped the painting, one of her favorites, to Canada with little hope of recouping the entry and customs fees.
“I thought it was a big waste of money,” she says, doubtful that she would win an award fresh out of art school.
Discovering she’d underestimated her work and that the prize came with a $1,000 cash award was a gratifying surprise that will help her outfit her new studio space where she’s been working on a new large-scale triptych, researching graduate schools and continuing to learn how to embrace her own image in the mirror.
“It’s much different than the way I grew up criticizing my body and hating it,” she says. “Now I just think the body itself is a work of art.”