And, purportedly, to use “without permission”. Duan Mei Yue finds herself in an unpleasant spot, again
An easy-to-paint face? Do you see the same girl? Duan Mei Yue (left); photo: Duan Mei Yue/Instagram. And her ‘likeness’ by Russian painter Angelina Poveteva; Photo*: Angelina Poveteva
Model Duan Mei Yue (段美玥) has a unique—some might say, enviable—problem. Her face is a visage so comely artists love to paint it… but without her permission, so Ms Duan has asserted, with utter disgust, on social media. Just last year, she blasted on Instagram the “unethical” use of her likeness without being asked by the Singaporean artist Alison M Low, based on a photograph of her by photographer Li Wanjie. The image later appeared on a book cover and on the floor of a Love, Bonito store as a piece of chipped cut-out. Now, another artist in, of all places, Russia(!), has seemingly given this by-now-recognisable face the treatment of the artist’s hands (she used them in place of paint brush). One Angelina Poveteva (Ангелина Поветьева) has been accused by Ms Duan of a familiar offence: painting her face, based on the said photograph, without her formal consent. Ms Duan is adamant that the subject in the painting is her.
Angelina Poveteva is a portraitist from the town of Michurinsk (named after the famed biologist/horticulturist Ivan Michurin) in the Tambov region of the Bryansk oblast (a federal subject) of Western Russia, near the border with Belarus. She is a graduate of Kochetov Children’s Art School in the rural ‘village’, as some call it, of Kochetov. Although also in Bryansk, the institution that Ms Poveteva attended is some nine hours to the west by car from her home village. It is not known how long she has been an artist or if she is pursuing art professionally. But it does appear that Ms Poveteva is partial to large-scale works. Her piece that Ms Duan took offence to is what she calls “the second in a row in the series ‘Birth’”. On Instagram, she writes: “I create understandable art”. Not quite comprehensible is the subject: why her?
Angelina Poveteva with one of her art pieces. Photo: Angelina Poveteva/Facebook
Her painting of a supposed Ms Duan is last year’s winning entry of the competition segment of the IV International Festival of Contemporary Art, dubbed ‘Artlife Fest’. Her monochromatic two-face piece, titled ‘Time to Open Your Eyes’, was among 400 works shown at the annual exhibition held in Russian capital last October, at the Moscow Manege, a 19th century neoclassical building that is also the site of Moscow Design Museum. Without revealing who the subject of her prize-winning entry is, Ms Poveteva, in a release to the local media, said: “Art for me is a path of endless development, an opportunity to learn all my life, to become better. For me, living without creativity is like living with your eyes closed.” Unfortunately for her, Duan Mei Yue had hers very much open.
Ms Duan, who, coincidentally, is now also an artist, likened Ms Poveteva’s use of her face in a for-sale nude to being traded as a trollop. She told Asiaone: “To see myself depicted naked, exhibited and sold off, I felt like I was being prostituted.” She also commented via a keenly-edited TikTok video that the “hundreds of people” who “posed and (have) taken pictures” in front of Ms Poveteva’s supposed painting of her at the Moscow art exhibition did so “like (she’s) some kind of Oriental freakshow”. This was not exactly Paris Fashion Week (or, Shanghai), and she was not draped in Dior. That TikTok video is viewed over 6,000 times in two days, as well as the 25K+ times after she shared it on IG. Some observers wondered if Ms Duan was aware she herself drew attention to a painting few would otherwise know, by a painter even fewer would be aware of, outside now-heavily-sanctioned Russia.
It is, of course, understandable that she would be overcome by shock and anger. No woman, model or not, wishes to see a likeness of herself floating online, and, least of all, sans clothes (in that particular painting, the subject was delineated to the waist naked, with nipples shown). A depiction, even if accurate, is not necessarily flattery. In Ms Duan’s case, she deemed it a flagrant violation. And claimed she cried “for 3 hours” when she saw the images of the painting. “Before (this), I was more upset in terms of how my ambitions of being a model were being exploited,” she told OneAsia. “This time, I feel so personally violated.” It is not clear if Ms Duan’s career has been adversely impacted by the existence of this painting. Nor has she said how so. Or, if, conversely, she had augmented her fame with the strong online condemnation.
To rub salt into the wound, the portrait—Ms Duan learnt—fetched USD10,000 (we are not sure how she came to know of this selling price or if indeed it was transacted at that amount), without a cent going to her. And if that was not insulting enough, the artist denied being inspired by her photograph—first shared on IG in 2018—or even used it as a reference. To prove that she was indeed not guilty as accused, Ms Poveteva allegedly produced a photo of a woman of unknown nationality and indeterminate race, and claimed she painted the Duan Mei Yue lookalike based on this other person. Ms Duan seemed certain that the photograph sent to her as “proof” had been “photoshopped” to look like the girl in the painting. The Russian artist has set her social media accounts to ‘private’ after this confrontation.
Publicity handout of Angelina Poveteva and her painting, Time to Open Your Eyes. Photo: Administration of the City of Michurinsk
Warning: objectionable language ahead
Ms Duan also said via the TikTok post that she was 18 when the vaguely seductive, semi-sultry photo of her was taken. “To see my eighteen-year-old self being painted naked and then being paraded around like that without my consent,” she said, “shattered me.” She told her viewers that she wishes to sue the artist but had learnt that copyright laws in Russia are complicated. She told AsiaOne that she wants to be compensated and to be offered an apology by both Ms Poveteva and the art school “in charged of” the artist in question. The school is believed to be Artlife Moscow (also known as Artlife Academy), an institution that “teach(es) painting online under the guidance of famous artists” and is, interestingly, the organiser of the eponymous exhibition Artlife Fest that awarded Ms Poveteva her win last year. Ms Duan alleges that the school is “super dismissive of this whole situation”. Additionally, she hopes that “a law can be put in place to protect everyone from artists like them”.
Four days ago, Duan Mei Yuan posted on IG a painting she did of that photographic portrait artists love. It was accompanied by a two-page essay on her reason for painting herself (and berating the two artists, so far, who have “PLAIN DISREGARD TO (HER) PRIVACY AND PERSONAILTY (sic) RIGHTS”), and the original, four-year-old photo. In the comments, below the images, she fulminated (and we quote verbatim), “if you wanna use me as the cover for your art, PAY ME. I AM NOT A PICTURE, I AM A HUMAN BEING. I AM NOT SOMETHING TO PUT ON ROCKS OR NAKED TORSOS. I AM NOT TO BE VIOLATED OR TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF.
I AM FUCKING HUMAN.”
*We took the liberty to pixelise part of the image of the painting in view of public decency
Updated: 08 April 2022, 1.30pm