In the early 1980s, after returning from Europe and confounded by the dearth of female artists included in European exhibitions of contemporary art, Julie Rrap created the (now renowned) photographic series Persona and Shadow, parodying stereotypical depictions of women in art history. Playing from the works of acclaimed Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, which were finding new popularity at the time among European painters, Rrap restaged the outlines of Munch's centralised female figures, gridded them and placed a photograph of herself into each section. "The rule was that the outline of the original [work] stayed complete, because you can't really change history in that sense, but … it had this effect of fracturing my figure," she says.
When the works were first shown in 1984, the National Gallery of Australia bought two. In 2020, the remaining seven were acquired to be included alongside the work of about 300 other women artists in the major exhibition Know My Name: Australian Women Artists 1900 to Now.
In this work, Rrap recasts Munch’s painting Puberty (1893) — made a century earlier — to contest the trope of the male artist and his female muse, and the primacy of painting over photography. In Munch’s Puberty, a young girl is poised awkwardly at the edge of a bed, a dark, looming shadow behind her suggesting, perhaps, an impeding fall from grace. Her eyes are widely innocent, as her arms seek to cover her nude body in an expression of modesty. In Rrap’s Puberty, while assuming the same pose as the vulnerable young girl in Munch’s painting, Rrap regards the viewer with a direct gaze in an overt challenge to age-old stereotypes.