‘(Hi)story of a Painting: The Light in the Shadow’ highlights 17th-century Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi’s journey as an artist

Sofia Treviño, Life & Arts Reporter

Sliding on a virtual reality headset and stepping into virtual 17th century Italy, viewers can  immerse themselves in the trials and tribulations of Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi, known for “Judith Slaying Holofernes.” On March 13, the production companies of Fat Red Bird and Monkey Frame held the world premiere of “(Hi)story of a Painting: The Light in the Shadow,” a VR experience at South by Southwest. 

Adding to the “(Hi)story of a Painting” series, which aims to highlight the stories of artists who are typically erased from history, this VR episode explored Gentileschi’s life as a female artist and her battles sharing her art with the world.

The Daily Texan dove into the VR experience and spoke to producer and writer Gaëlle Mourre and Quentin Darras, co-director and lead animator, about using VR to share the message behind Gentileschi’s story.

The Daily Texan: Where did the idea for this series come from? 

Gaëlle Mourre: It’s a project that’s had a long gestation period. I studied art history and was confronted with the fact that art history is often seen as inaccessible –– and is actually quite highbrow. I wanted to create a project that proved that wrong and made it accessible and engaging to wider audiences.

DT: Why did you specifically choose to feature Artemisia Gentileschi?

GM: We figured, “Let’s look at why some artists are not iconic and they should be.” Artemisia is very established in the art world, but perhaps not as much in popular culture. There are lots of exhibitions (currently) featuring her work around the world. This was the right time for us to bring her story forward in VR and explore not only her personal story but also why she’s an extraordinary artist in her own right. 

We thought (Artemisia) might speak to a wider audience. Unfortunately, Artemisia’s life fits into the #MeToo movement. This is never a good thing, to have to contend with these issues, but we thought, “She’s an artist who’s often been overlooked and whose work has often been attributed to male artists up until recently.” Her work was deemed too good to be allocated to a woman. Obviously, that is changing now. We thought, “Let’s just contribute to that narrative.”

DT: How does VR allow you to better share Artemisia’s story, rather than any other medium?

Quentin Darras: VR is definitely made (to be) emotional (and) more involved. We’re sure that for 15 minutes, we have your attention. That way we can dive in. We can go into details and stuff that would be hard to get just in video.

DT: What do you hope viewers take away from the VR experience?

GM: This episode is narrated by Cerys Matthews, a singer, songwriter and author. We wanted to work with contemporary creatives to bridge the gap between today and the past (and) with younger audiences. Also, (to) show that artwork and art history can be enjoyed and appreciated by anyone you know, and great artists come from anywhere.

QD: We tend to forget that great artists are just people. This is about remembering (that). (Artemisia) was both a great artist and a regular person.