Debut solo art exhibition by Vanessa Tignanelli
The WKP Kennedy Gallery, September 24-October 29, 2021.

At the crossroads of her career and personal life, Vanessa Tignanelli confronts identity anxiety and societal expectation in a solo exhibition that examines her own story for the first time. As a photojournalist who has returned to her hometown of North Bay to get married, she fights to interlace two opposing sides of herself: the feminist freelancer and the future wife. 

Using 3D printing, installation, collage, painting, and photography, she has created a body of work that calls into question the fear that we must choose between our desires, or will fall quietly into stereotypes if we do. It is an introspective journey for the artist to appreciate what has already been, and what the next chapter will bring. 

This exhibition is supported by ICAMP at Canadore College and Ontario Arts Council - Conseil des arts de l'Ontario.

Take a Tour of the Exhibition...

To Be Both

Mixed-media Installation

The poem “To Be Both” was written two months before the artist was asked to marry someone she had loved from a distance for over ten years. During those ten years, she worked as an artist and photojournalist, building her practice telling others’ stories. With his proposal came the question if she would participate in her own story, or continue to serve. Self-portraits of the artist with her fiancé reveal her conflicting feelings of the fear that she must choose between the two things she loves most: art and him. Using the photos as a muse, the poem alternates between being a partner or an artist, and dissects the attributes of each persona. As she does in the poem, this solo exhibition challenges the belief that she must choose between desires, and instead create a new identity that is the sum of all her parts.

My Work's Life Series

Acrylic Paint on Photo Paper

The artist confronts the criticism that documentary photography is not an art form, by painting on photographs selected from her portfolio. Adding subtle texture to bring the images to life, she
encourages the viewer to observe and consider these moments that she has borne witness to. They are far more than the digital images we see moving quickly past our screens. A story takes a thousand hours to create, yet exists only a day online in its oversaturated platform. Its impact remains alive forever in her. If the goal was to rehumanize these people’s stories, she does so once again by bringing them into existence off-screen and as a tangible piece of art.
To learn these people’s stories, please visit


3D Printed Sculptures

la mano: the Italian translation of the word ‘hand’. 

mano-a-mano: two parties confronting each other directly. 

The artist’s hands face each other - one giving the middle finger, the other giving the ring finger - in a constant battle between activism and matrimony. With the help of ICAMP (Innovation Centre for Advanced Manufacturing and Prototyping), the artist has pioneered a way of using new 3D print technology to make sculptures by scanning the human body from life, rather than from a digital image.

"The constant battle between activism and matrimony is one that is self-manufactured. In actuality, and in finding space within their presentation, neither position stands as a greater threat to the other, and both find space to co-exist on the same pedestal."

- Corbin Losereit, Art Critic

I’ve Worn It All Before 

Mixed-media Installation

The artist presents us with three items with which to contemplate the meaning of consent and marriage in a religious context. Her Baptism dress, worn as a baby in 1990, was the first white dress she ever wore for the sake of ceremony. Her First Communion dress, worn in 1998 at 8 years old, was an expected part of following the traditions of her Roman Catholic Italian family. 

The third item is a ring - what remains from her kidnapping in The Gambia in 2017, when the artist was forced to partake in a marriage ceremony for being unmarried in a Muslim community. These non-consensual experiences with religious practices have led to a complicated relationship with marriage, and a fearful determination to approach matrimony with a modern sense of autonomy.

Wild-Wife Series

Paper Collage 

Combining images from National Geographic and bridal magazines, these collages are a template for the artist to see if her work as a photojournalist will merge with her upcoming marriage. We are forced to consider the harmony between the two contrasting subject matter, to see them together in an organic way as to create something new. Trying to balance the pressures of working in a male-dominated industry with the traditional expectations of marriage, themes of womanhood, Goddess spirituality, and the divine feminine are given permission to be explored. 


Woven lace, tool, and thread

The soft, feminine symbolism of woven lace is juxtaposed with the masculine, dominator symbolism of the rope. The decision to move home to North Bay at the height of her photojournalism career set in a fear of failure, loss of purpose, and isolation from others in her industry. Suffering with depression and anxiety surrounding her decisions, the artist created this rope as an exercise in improving her perspective. Connected with ancient Goddess culture, weaving symbolizes creation, the three fates, spinning our desires into being. Although the rope is often associated with terrorism and suicide, it began as a symbol of strength, ascension, and creating bonds. We can choose to see this lace rope as a cry for help, or as a practice in becoming resilient.

Illuminated Lace Series

3D Printed Lithophane and LED Light Panel

Lace is a delicate fabric with a variety of associated meanings. Historically, white lace is a symbol of the bride, representing purity and innocence. Black lace symbolizes death, mourning and suffering. Red lace is a symbol of sensuality and exploration. In the study of art history, the colour of lace a woman is wearing often dictates the identity of the woman; we assume her age, her marital status, her class based on allegories. In this series, the artist’s portrait appears three times, each the same except for the lace adorning her. It is only when she is illuminated that we see what is beneath the surface: her photographic image appears within the sculptures, revealing the colour of the lace and, therefore, a simplified identity. Using new technology in 3D printing, paired with the symbolism of lace and its historical contexts, the audience sees beneath the surface to consider that the artist can be each of these three identities at any given time. 

Beneath the Surface is White
3D Printed Lithophane and LED Light Panel

Beneath the Surface is Red
3D Printed Lithophane and LED Light Panel

Beneath the Surface is Black
3D Printed Lithophane and LED Light Panel

An Exercise In Marriage

By Taylor Craig and Vanessa Tignanelli
Instant Film Photographs

At the core of a marriage is learning how to trust, to share, to communicate with one’s partner. Stepping in front of the camera and relinquishing control to her partner, the artist and her fiancé practice each of the prerequisites for their upcoming marriage in this collaboration portrait series. The use of an instant film camera limits the number of frames available, and therefore encourages strong communication prior to taking each photo. The ability for the artist to edit or manipulate the images digitally is also removed, ensuring that all creative decisions remain in the hands of her partner. Together, they have created a portrait series where the documenter becomes the documented, posing with dried flowers that the couple has been collecting for their wedding day. This portrait series is a study on surrendering to each other’s processes, learning patience in unfamiliar roles, and trusting her partner, who is not a photographer, to follow his own instincts

Exhibition Review

Written by Corbin Losereit

November 11th, 2021 

To Be Both: Creating Space for Conflicting Identities 

In her debut solo exhibition, Vanessa Tignanelli draws upon various aspects of her extensive artistic career, seating her creative practices in dialogue with her recent engagement to her fiancé as an exploration of her own identity and an interrogation of how identities come to be impacted and influenced by societal moulds. Whether for professional or personal commitments, the artist questions the limiting labels and stereotypes imposed upon us when we choose to pursue our greatest devotions, and whether there is a potential for space to be made for each facet of our identity. 

To Be Both, exhibited at the WKP Kennedy Gallery from September 24th to October 29th, showcases Tignanelli’s multidisciplinary collection of artwork. Her well-known early photojournalism work is reintroduced and re-envisioned from a painterly perspective, situated in dialogue with other newly developed content that ranges from 3D sculpture, installation, collage, photography, poetry, and personal archives that speak to the artist’s experiences and perspectives in her long-anticipated matrimony. 

Vanessa Tignanelli is a Canadian documentary photographer and videographer, returning back to her roots in North Bay, Ontario to fulfill her role as a soon-to-be wife. Tignanelli began her artistic career by acquiring a Bachelor of Arts in Studio Art at the University of Guelph, graduating in 2012, and from that point gravitated towards her passion for photojournalism. Equipped with the knowledge and a talent for photography, the artist would pursue a business in event photography, but would return back to school in 2016 at Loyalist College in Belleville to excel in the field of photojournalism. It is within her work that Tignanelli expresses herself as the role of an activist, but perhaps more intimately, her work tends to revolve around celebrating individuality and those who reconcile identities that may not align with societal standards, shedding light on the dimensionality and depth of these subjects as an embracement of authenticity and difference. 

With Tignanelli describing herself as someone who has “always cared a lot and wanting to give one-hundred percent,” while being integral to her character and role as a professional, this sense of all-or-nothing dedication has surfaced as a conflict in navigating how to fulfill and oscillate between significant commitments in her life. Having become engaged in 2017, a year before her graduation from Loyalist in 2018, her marriage proposal would testify the idea that “you can’t possibly give your all to both roles,” a fear articulated by Tignanelli herself, but that also came as an unexpected assumption from colleagues who understood her ambitions within the field of photojournalism. The artist would feel an interesting shift in attitude and treatment of her legitimacy as a working professional, not being taken as seriously in her work given plans to marry. 

It is as though the choice to devote oneself to love strikes as a burden to other obligations in one’s life, a supposed conflict that has influenced Tignanelli’s overall intent with her exhibition. The title piece, To Be Both, a mixed-media installation from 2017 (the point at which her engagement ignited these fears) is encountered as the first piece upon walking into the gallery space. A poem that articulates the alternate dimensions between being a partner or an artist, matched with self-portraits of the artist with her fiancé that express compassion in contention with anxiety, serve to voice this dialogue throughout the corpus of works presented. 

The significance of human dimensionality is foregrounded as integral to the artist's approaches to identity and to validate senses of authenticity within an immediate display of her photojournalism work. The images stand as a history of Tignanelli’s long-standing intrigue with those that do not coincide with traditional society, but which offer poignant perspectives of diverse human experiences and narratives. By reintroducing the artist's hand and intervening the digital imagery with acrylic paint in her series My Work’s Life, the works legitimize the practice of documentary photography as one that contains artifice and that is deserving of being admired as such, just as those whom she has documented are deserving of being realized as tangible forms of art. This focus on dimensionality becomes reasserted throughout the show in order to shed light on the importance of recognizing the multi-faceted dimensions of one's character. 

In Mano-a-Mano, dimensionality takes a literal and physical form by adopting a unique contemporary medium: 3D printed sculptures of the artist's hands. As gestures of the artist stand in opposition to one another -- one being the middle finger of the activist and the other being the ring finger of the wife -- the intent has been to express a constant conflict of identity within herself. Yet the pairing of both dimensions comes to make a realization as to how both seemingly disparate roles actually contain more similarities than differences. It becomes crucial how both hands are essentially rendered as identical, other than their defining gestures. Both positions are demanding of the same kinds of attention, dedication and commitment, merely with different approaches and goals. The constant battle between activism and matrimony is one that is self-manufactured. In actuality, and in finding space within their presentation, neither position stands as a greater threat to the other, and both find space to co-exist on the same pedestal. 

This form of acceptance and realizing the embodiment of a multi-dimensional identity is found within the series of Illuminated Lace lithographs that again utilizes 3D technology and light to reveal portraits of the artist in lace, imbued with symbolic colours. In Beneath the Surface is White, the artist draws upon historical indicators of lace, with white as a colour representing purity and innocence. The use of red and black in accompanying pieces come to represent sensuality and mourning, respectfully. By illuminating the artist under these veils, the role of the wife is not to be taken as a solely defining attribute to one's character, but rather that one can embody the different roles within her marital status in an unrestricted way; with individuality remaining intact and forefront.

Collage comes to be another exciting way that Tignanelli expresses her feminized concepts and experiences within the realms of photojournalism and marriage in the Wild Wife series. Switching between bridal magazines and National Geographic magazines for her sources of imagery, the challenge of representing herself as an artist between both worlds is reconciled in newly crafted compositions that leave space to consider the union of such contrasting subject matter. With many of the works drawing upon readings of women of the ancient world, Tignanelli intends to reassert these goddess figures as a reclamation of their feminine power that has been lost over history. Attributing their reputations of empowerment to her own narrative, references to goddesses serve to reinstate ideas of power and autonomy that may be relinquished under the presumptions of marriage and working within a male-dominated industry. Ancient goddess figures are similarly utilized as representations of the artist herself, drawing upon certain archetypes and narratives as a way of expressing aspects of her interiority and present identity. As I Am: Maiden, Mother and Crone draws upon the deity archetype of the Triple Goddess, recalling the separate stages of the female life cycle and how herself as an artist relates to and fits in with this natural Neopagan celebration of women. With the Maiden symbolizing a youthful and enthusiastic achiever, driven by creativity, passion and an acquisition of knowledge, her figure is forefronted, pushing away that of the Mother figure as the role of self-sacrifice, nurture and care for others that has perhaps not been fully realized within the artist as of yet. To identify with the mother is not necessarily to identify with a maternal role, specifically caring for children. Nurturing, sharing, and caring for others can be an extension of the self in relation to family, friends, and members of a community. In this way, there may be space made to align with the role of a Mother as the artist enters a new chapter of being a wife. However, Tignanelli rather acknowledges her role as the Crone, typically the final stage of womanhood that celebrates and shares wisdom and experience, but that also recenters oneself within their learned desires and roots. Holding a lens within her hands, she reiterates the significance of her photography career and the camera as being the force that has brought her into being and will continue to facilitate her growth and existence. This implementation of goddess culture is significant as the artist draws upon historical narratives that serve to recontextualize and support a contemporary reality. By situating herself within the figures of celebrated and empowered goddesses, Tignanelli recognizes and reclaims the reputation of historical feminist roles in correlation to her own lived experience. 

This connection to ancient Goddess culture appears again in the installation work Fates, crafted with woven lace, tool, and thread into a rope that recalls weaving practices as a symbol of creation and spinning desires into being. As the work was made during a period in which the artist was suffering with feelings of depression and anxiety surrounding her decisions to move home at the height of her photojournalism career, she describes the work with the potential to be seen as a practice of becoming resilient. The artist embarked on the practice of weaving as intended to improve a distraught personal perspective. It is this vulnerability that Tignanelli describes throughout her work that is poignant, relaying the significance of her experiences. That which we decide to focus our desires and energy towards comes to bear weight on the view we have of ourselves, and as such, we assume that others' perceptions of our identity would be similar. If an interior dialogue is speaking to the ways that we see ourselves as being unsuccessful, lacking, or disparate in our personal trajectory, we fear similar judgement, as societal expectations and influences have informed us. Embodying a sense of vulnerability is a powerful act in accepting that which may be unsettled within oneself, defying notions of judgement or an infringement of values in order to facilitate growth and ascension from that which has been perceived to impair us. 

Vulnerability is most potently described through an object that may be overlooked in a general viewing, but upon further interrogation is a profound example of the anxieties faced when approaching matrimony. I’ve Worn It All Before includes the display of the ring that Tignanelli had kept from her kidnapping in The Gambia in 2017, where she was forced to be married to a stranger due to the fact that she was travelling as an unmarried woman in a Muslim community. Such a non-consensual experience undoubtedly leaves one questioning the values and ideas of matrimony that can be difficult to process when approaching one's own preconceived desires for marriage. 

Despite enduring such traumatic experiences surrounding marriage, sexism, and autonomy, Tignanelli presents a piece that I believe testifies her ability to work through such conflict in the name of love, devotion, and trust. An Exercise in Marriage is a collaborative series of instant film photographs shot by the artist's partner, Taylor Craig. The work again relies on the artist's ability to remain vulnerable, in this case surrendering her role as the photographer to become the subject, relinquishing control to her partner as an act of trust that is contingent to their roles within marriage. The dried flowers that appear in the photos, wilted due to the setbacks of the pandemic in delaying their wedding ceremony, attests to the patience and devotion of the couple. Not only has Tignanelli proved the reality that her decision to marry is a withstanding and agreeable commitment, but by temporarily removing herself from the role of the photographer within the context of her relationship, she proves that space can be made for either aspect of the artist's life where neither role works in contention or conflict, but that instead proposes a harmonious dynamic. 

In contrast to the societal expectations of love and marriage within the past century, our contemporary age does not hold the same dominant pressures to marry as a sign of social status, expected to find a suitable partner at an early age and start a family as a sign of success and happiness. Rather, when one comes to the decision to marry today, having not been influenced or enchanted by traditional narratives, marriage is decided upon purely as an act of love, commitment, and trust with a partner that can propose endless connection and intimacy for life. It is an act of desire as opposed to expectation. Yet considering the societal implications that are held within a contemporary capitalist society, in which one's career path and work-related ambitions become viewed as a reflection of their identity or worth, interesting comparisons arise between the status of one's occupation and the status of one's union. Each role imposes similar anxieties of commitment, responsibility, and the acceptance of whether or not one has made the right decisions for themselves. One of the most daunting similarities is how each role is so demanding of one's attention and devotion, that evidently will cause anxiety over the contention between both ambitions, and whether or not space can be made to embody both simultaneously. 

Tignanelli has successfully proven that one does not have to decide between desires through her amalgamation of works that each speak to the disparities between a professional career, a creative practice, and a feminized role in marriage. She has crafted a show where, even in the gallery space itself, a unification of these identities is articulated to present a complex dimensionality, as well as a coherent and dignified identity of herself as an artist, a wife, and an individual.

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