Posts Tagged ‘New Documentary

10
May
15

Exhibition: ‘Nicolás Muller (1913-2000). Traces of exile’ at the Château de Tours

Exhibition dates: 22nd November 2014 – 31st May 2015

Curator: Chema Cones, a freelance curator

 

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Carénage du navire. Canaries' 1964

 

Nicolás Muller (1913-2000)
Carénage du navire. Canaries [Fairing the ship. Canary Islands]
1964
© Nicolás Muller

 

 

 

Another artist whom I knew very little about before researching for this posting. Another human being who survived the maelstrom of the Second World War by the skin of his teeth – obtaining a visa for Tangiers which, at the time, was the destination for thousands of Jews fleeing from Central Europe.

After seven years in Tangier – “Tangier, in December 1939, was an international city, almost a paradise in the middle of a world war-crazed … My stinging eyes, hands and my whole being to want to walk everywhere taking pictures” – he moved to Madrid, in order to go back to working as a photojournalist, to explore the regions of Spain, and to publish books of his work. This seems a strange country of choice to move to after the freedom of Tangiers, especially with the Fascist dictatorship of General Franco in full swing until 1975. I wonder what were his reasons behind this choice? Muller obviously loved the Spanish landscape and its people and you can track his journeys across the Iberian Peninsula by looking up the places of his photographs on a map of the region. He travelled everywhere, from North to South, from West to East. Apparently, he was an active member of Spain’s underground intelligentsia, but why would you go to a country if you had to be covert about your intelligence? Was he in exile from Hungary or France, or from himself?

The strongest photographs in this posting are the images from Tangiers, although I would love to see more of his portrait work (the image of Susana, 1937, below is a cracker). Unfortunately there are very few of his portrait photographs online. The best of his work has an elegant simplicity with a wonderful control of people, space and light.

 

Addendum November 2017

I received a wonderful and unexpected email from Dania Muller, whose grandfather was Nicolás Muller. Dania explains the “enigma” of Nicolás settling in Spain:

He was asked by the intellectuals who weren’t dismissed by Franco, Spain’s dictator at the time, to exhibit in Madrid. He was living in Tangier at the time. And so he went to Madrid to expose his work… only to encounter a beautiful lady who he felt a strong attraction too, and told his friend that he would marry her. She was my grandma, they fell in love and eventually he moved to Spain, had four kids and took in the Spanish way of life, where he lived peacefully and happily.”

Dania Muller email to Marcus Bunyan 25/11/2017.

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What a joyous, happy ending! Dania is sending me a book on her grandfather’s work and I hope to do another posting in the near future.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Château de Tours for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Country House. Madrid' 1950

 

Nicolás Muller (Spanish born Hungary, 1913-2000)
Country House, Madrid
1950
© Nicolás Muller

 

 

“La fotografía en España en el año 47 ofrecía un aspecto bastante original: por un lado Ortiz Echagüe, el venerado maestro que hacía sus libros y sus fotografías como si fueran pinturas o grabados preciosos y por otra parte… Campúa, el fotógrafo del Caudillo, Jalón Ángel, Kaulak en la calle Alcalá y Geynes que junto Amer Ventosa copaban las fotografías de ata sociedad.

Por lo demás la fotografía no estaba valorada en nada o en casi nada, mostrando una perspectiva desoladora.”

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“Photography in Spain in 1947 offered a rather original appearance: first Ortiz Echague, the revered teacher who had his books and his photographs as if they were paintings or beautiful prints and elsewhere … Campúa, photographer of the Caudillo, Jalon Ángel, Kaulak in Alcala Street and Geynes and Amer Ventosa together photographs were permeating society.

Otherwise the picture was not worth anything or almost nothing, showing a bleak outlook.”

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Marché de nattes de paille' Tanger, Maroc, 1944

 

Nicolás Muller (Spanish born Hungary, 1913-2000)
Marché de nattes de paille [Straw mats at the market]
Tangier, Morocco, 1944
© Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Danseuse' Larache, Maroc, 1942

 

Nicolás Muller (Spanish born Hungary, 1913-2000)
Danseuse [Dancer]
Larache, Maroc, 1942
© Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Portrait of Susana' 1937

 

Nicolás Muller (Spanish born Hungary, 1913-2000)
Portrait of Susana
1937
© Nicolás Muller

 

 

“En mis retratos, si hubiera algo de interés, no será por el retratista, sino por parte del retratado. Me gustaba hacer retratos para conocer al personaje.”

“In my portraits, there was something of interest, it is not for the portrait, but for the sitter. I liked doing portraits to know the character.”

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Bajo la Lluvia' Portugal, 1939

 

Nicolás Muller (Spanish born Hungary, 1913-2000)
Bajo la Lluvia [In the Rain]
Portugal, 1939
© Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Descargando sal' Oporto, Portugal, 1939

 

Nicolás Muller (Spanish born Hungary, 1913-2000)
Descargando sal [Unloading salt]
Oporto, Portugal, 1939
© Nicolás Muller

 

 

“In Porto I liked the harbour full of bustle, with its vivid colours … women with heavy downloading caryatids necks baskets of salt and coal. Other women, always with baskets on their heads, downloading large bales of dried cod, and among both men lying or sitting in the sun, watching the clouds, playing cards …”

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Chinchón II' Madrid, 1950

 

Nicolás Muller (Spanish born Hungary, 1913-2000)
Chinchón II
Madrid, 1950
Chinchón II

 

 

Although little known in France, Nicolás Muller (Orosháza, Hungary, 1913 – Andrín, Spain, 2000) was one of the leading exponents of Hungarian social photography. Like many of his compatriots – Eva Besnyö, Brassaï, Robert Capa, André Kertész and Kati Horna – he spent much of his life in exile: born into a bourgeois Jewish family, he left Hungary shortly after the Anschluss in 1938, spending time in Paris, Portugal and Morocco before finally setting in Spain. This experience, and the situations and people he encountered along the way, did much to shape Muller’s work.

Like many of his fellow Hungarian photographers at the time, in the 1930s Muller worked in a humanist, documentary vein, evincing a strong sense of sympathy for the world of labour and the most modest members of society. His interest in the working man’s experience would remain a hallmark of his photographs. As the social and political contexts changed, he photographed agricultural labourers and dockers in the ports of Marseille and Porto, then children and street vendors in Tangiers, and life in the countryside. Later, he photographed cultural and social figures in Madrid.

The exhibition at the Château de Tours – the first show in France dedicated exclusively to this photographer – brings together a hundred images and documents from the archives kept by his daughter Ana Muller. This chronologically presented selection made by curator Chema Conesa follows the career and travels of this alert, curious photographer from 1935 to 1981.

Nicolás Muller was given his first camera at the age of thirteen, and immediately began to explore its capacity to express a certain idea of the world and of human beings. He maintained this passion for photography when studying law and politics at the Szeged University. His camera, and the feeling that he could use it to convey the adventure of living, were the formative constants of his life and art.

“I learned that photography can be a weapon, an authentic document of reality. […] I became an engaged person, an engaged photographer.”

During his four years at university he would also explore the Hungarian plains, whether on foot, by train or by bike, photographing men and women, the interiors of houses, scenes of rural life and the workers building the dykes on the River Tisza.

His early work is dominated by this rural aspect of Hungary – a country that had lost a significant fraction of its territory under the Treaty of Versailles (1920). It is also influenced by the avant-garde aesthetic of the day, with its diagonal perspectives and high- and low-angle shots.

When Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938 (the Anschluss), Hungary aligned itself with the fascist regime and Muller decided to continue his photographic career elsewhere. He came to Paris, where he was in touch with other Hungarian photographers such as Brassaï, Robert Capa and André Kertész. He found work with periodicals such as Match, France Magazine and Regards, which published his photographs of working life in Hungary and Marseille. This theme continued to occupy him during his short stay in General Salazar’s Portugal, until he was imprisoned and then expelled.

Through his father, who had stayed in Hungary and had close links with Rotary Club International, Muller managed to obtain a visa for Tangiers – which, at the time, was the destination for thousands of Jews fleeing from Central Europe. The city roused him to a state of almost febrile creativity. “My eyes, my hands and my whole being are itching to go everywhere, to take photographs wherever I can.” His tireless portrayal of Tangiers also shows him learning to deal with a new challenge: intense light.

In Tangiers Muller contributed photographs to a number of books, such as Tanger por el Jalifa and Estampas marroquis, and did reportage work on the towns of the “Spanish Zone” commissioned by the Spanish High Commission in Morocco. After seven years in Tangiers – “the happiest years of my life” – Muller decided to move to Madrid in order to go back to working as a photojournalist, to explore the regions of Spain, and to publish books of his work.

As the reputation of his studio grew, so he frequented the writers, philosophers and poets who met at the legendary Café Gijón and around the Revista d’Occidente. An active member of Spain’s underground intelligentsia, he also made portraits of artist and writer friends, including Pío Baroja, Camilo José Cela, Eugeni d’Ors and Ramón Pérez de Ayala, and of figures such as the pianist Ataúlfo Argenta and the torero Manolete (Muller’s photo captures him not long before his death).

Nicolás Muller retired at the age of 68 and moved to Andrín (Asturias), where he died in 2000.”

Press release from the Château de Tours website

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Castro Urdiales (Santander)' 1968

 

Nicolás Muller (Spanish born Hungary, 1913-2000)
Castro Urdiales (Santander)
1968
© Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Aiguisage de la faux. Hongrie' 1935

 

Nicolás Muller (Spanish born Hungary, 1913-2000)
Aiguisage de la faux. Hongrie [Sharpening the scythe. Hungary]
1935
© Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller. 'San Cristóbal de Entreviñas' Zamora, 1957

 

Nicolás Muller (Spanish born Hungary, 1913-2000)
San Cristóbal de Entreviñas
Zamora, 1957
© Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller

 

 

And in Spain, Muller, he found the picture of the war, depressed by the legacy of the war and destroyed by repression and losses, a strange climate where lived traditions and religion country, big cities and the inland villages, children and widows of war. In our country, there were few references of the new documentary that took place in the rest of Europe, not to say that they are almost non-existent except in the case of Jose Ortiz Echague. You could say that with Catalá Roca, Muller is one of the most important photographers of the era in which he portrayed the society of Spain…

His social photography is part of this new documentary, from a very specific perspective, where the photographer has to be absent from the picture, it must be maintained as an external agent. Under this premise, Nicolas Muller, is a hunter of moments immortalised through his camera. He observed from the outside, does not seek to intervene in the context, it seeks to be faithful to the situation, the purity of the image and emotions. The artist is absent on the scene and that allows you to create a picture where the main protagonists are the people who participate in the moment. The exhibition held in 1947 for the West Magazine which expresses the new artistic concepts which would give photography in the context of modernity. For this exhibition portrayed famous people of Spanish society, mostly intellectuals and cultural figures as Azorín, Ortega y Gasset, Menendez Pidal, Marañón or John Doe … With this starting point, Nicolas Muller discovers the Spanish geography and unleashes the photographic socialism, traveling through villages and cities. In this series, the photographer welcomes environments, customs and influences of the inhabitants of the places where he spent days or months…

If a photographer wants to be the chronicler of the time in which he lives you have to convey reality and not an image that changes or imagines himself.”

Text translated from “Nicolás Muller, Social Photography in the War,” on the Madriz website, 15th January 2014. No longer available online.

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Séville' 1951

 

Nicolás Muller (Spanish born Hungary, 1913-2000)
Séville
1951
© Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Semana Santa (Cuenca)' 1950

 

Nicolás Muller (Spanish born Hungary, 1913-2000)
Semana Santa (Cuenca) [Easter (Cuenca)]
1950
© Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Tatoo' Bordeaux, France, 1938

 

Nicolás Muller (Spanish born Hungary, 1913-2000)
Tatoo
Bordeaux, France, 1938
© Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Arcos de la Frontera (Cádiz)' 1957

 

Nicolás Muller (Spanish born Hungary, 1913-2000)
Arcos de la Frontera (Cádiz)
1957
© Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Three men' Marseilles, France, 1938

 

Nicolás Muller (Spanish born Hungary, 1913-2000)
Tres hombres [Three men]
Marseilles, France, 1938
© Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Le Lévrier et la modèle' Tanger, Maroc, 1940

 

Nicolás Muller (Spanish born Hungary, 1913-2000)
Le Lévrier et la modèle [The Greyhound and model]
Tangier, Morocco, 1940
© Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Fête du Mouloud I' Tanger, Maroc, 1942

 

Nicolás Muller (Spanish born Hungary, 1913-2000)
Fête du Mouloud I – Al Mawlid I [Mouloud festival I]
Tangier, Morocco, 1942
© Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Fête du Mouloud II' Tanger, Maroc, 1942

 

Nicolás Muller (Spanish born Hungary, 1913-2000)
Fête du Mouloud II [Mouloud festival II]
Tangier, Morocco, 1942
© Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Tangier, Morocco' 1942

 

Nicolás Muller (Spanish born Hungary, 1913-2000)
Tánger, Marruecos [Tangier, Morocco]
1942
© Nicolás Muller

 

 

“Tangier, in December 1939, was an international city, almost a paradise in the middle of a world war-crazed … My stinging eyes, hands and my whole being to want to walk everywhere taking pictures.”

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Casares' Malaga, 1967

 

Nicolás Muller (Spanish born Hungary, 1913-2000)
Casares
Malaga, 1967
© Nicolás Muller

 

 

Château de Tours
25 avenue André Malraux
37000 Tours

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday: 2pm – 6pm
Saturday and Sunday: 2.15pm – 6pm

Château de Tours website

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10
Jan
14

Exhibition: ‘She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World’ at The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Exhibition dates: 27th August 2013 – 12th January 2014

 

Gohar Dashti. 'Untitled #5' 2008

 

Gohar Dashti (Iranian, b. 1980)
Untitled #5
2008

 

 

I love that this archive gives a presence to disparate voices.

This is an important exhibition, one that challenges “Western notions about the ‘Orient,’ examines the complexities of identity, and redefines documentary as a genre.” The work of 12 women artists from Iran and the Arab World challenge stereotypes and provides insight into political and social issues. “The images – ranging from fine art to photojournalism – refute the conception that Arab and Iranian women are “oppressed and powerless,” instead reinforcing that some of the most significant photographic work in the region today is being done by women.”

Marcus

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Many thankx to The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Gohar Dashti. 'Untitled #2' 2008

 

Gohar Dashti (Iranian, b. 1980)
Untitled #2
2008

 

Tanya Habjouqa. 'Untitled' 2009

 

Tanya Habjouqa (Jordanian, b. 1975)
Untitled
2009
From the Women of Gaza series

 

Tanya Habjouqa. 'Untitled' 2009

 

Tanya Habjouqa (Jordanian, b. 1975)
Untitled
2009
From the Women of Gaza series

 

Rania Matar. 'Stephanie, Beirut, Lebanon' 2010

 

Rania Matar (Lebanese/Palestinian/American, b. 1964)
Stephanie, Beirut, Lebanon
2010

 

Rania Matar. 'Alia, Beirut, Lebanon' 2010

 

Rania Matar (Lebanese/Palestinian/American, b. 1964)
Alia, Beirut, Lebanon
2010

 

Rula Halawani. 'Untitled XIII' 2002

 

Rula Halawani (Palestinian, b. 1964)
Untitled XIII
2002

 

Lalla Essaydi. 'Bullets Revisited #3' 2012

 

Lalla Essaydi (Moroccan, b. 1956)
Bullets Revisited #3
2012

 

 

Power and passion will be on display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) in an exhibition of works by 12 women photographers from Iran and the Arab World. The first of its kind in North America, the exhibition features approximately 100 photographs and two videos, created almost entirely within the last decade, that challenge stereotypes and provide insight into political and social issues. The images – ranging from fine art to photojournalism – refute the conception that Arab and Iranian women are “oppressed and powerless,” instead reinforcing that some of the most significant photographic work in the region today is being done by women. On view from August 27, 2013 – January 12, 2014, She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World highlights the rich artistic expression of pioneering photographers Jananne Al-Ani, Boushra Almutawakel, Gohar Dashti, Rana El Nemr, Lalla Essaydi, Shadi Ghadirian, Tanya Habjouqa, Rula Halawani, Nermine Hammam, Rania Matar, Shirin Neshat, and Newsha Tavakolian. Accompanying the exhibition is a new publication, She Who Tells a Story (MFA Publications, September 2013), authored by exhibition curator Kristen Gresh, the MFA’s Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Assistant Curator of Photographs. This exhibition is generously supported by the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Additional support from the Barbara Jane Anderson Fund.

She Who Tells a Story brings together recent photographs from 12 groundbreaking artists,” said Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the MFA. “Their works tell stories that evoke a range of emotion, challenge our perception, and present the Middle East with a fresh perspective.”

In Arabic, the word rawiya means “she who tells a story.” These photographs are a collection of stories about contemporary life in Iran and the Arab World. The exhibition will explore themes of “Deconstructing Orientalism,” “Constructing Identities,” and “New Documentary,” revealing the individuality of each artist’s work, while allowing glimpses into the region’s social and political landscapes. The MFA has acquired 18 of the works on view in the Henry and Lois Foster Gallery in the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art. Acquisitions made in 2013 include Roja (Patriots) from the series Book of Kings (2012) by Shirin Neshat; the complete series of nine photographs in Mother, Daughter, Doll (2010) by Boushra Almutawakel; three prints from the series Women of Gaza (2009) by Tanya Habjouqa; two photos from the series The Metro (2003) by Rana El Nemr; two prints from the series Qajar (1998) by Shadi Ghadirian; and Untitled #2 from Today’s Life and War (2008) by Gohar Dashti.

“Reflecting on the power of politics and the legacy of war, the photographs in this exhibition challenge Western notions about the ‘Orient,’ examine the complexities of identity, and redefine documentary as a genre,” said curator Kristen Gresh, who was first exposed to this work while living abroad for 15 years, teaching history of photography in Paris and Cairo.

Historically, Orientalism refers to depictions by European or American artists of the East, including Middle Eastern, North African, and Eastern cultures – often presenting the “Orient” as culturally inferior. The history of photography in the area has largely consisted of images created by outsiders, ranging from pyramids and sacred biblical sites to staged harem scenes and belly dancers. Coupled with myths and traditional tales like the “Persian” Queen Sheherazade and the “Arabian” Thousand and One Nights, misconceptions continue to persist to this day. These stereotypes are shattered with Shirin Neshat’s groundbreaking series Women of Allah (1993-97). The series grew out of a visit she made to her native Iran 15 years after the Iranian Revolution (1979). On view are four portraits from the series – Untitled (1996), Speechless (1996), I Am Its Secret (1993) and Identified (1995) – each of which incorporate elements of the veil (or hijab), gun, text and gaze and break down Orientalist myths, showing women empowered in the face of opposition. Among the earliest photographs in the exhibition, they are overlaid with Persian script from contemporary Iranian women writers and evoke the role that women played in the Iranian Revolution. The series marked a turning point in the recent history of representation and debates about the veil, inspiring exploration by other photographers.

In addition to Neshat, others have had an impact on the history of visual representation and the perception of Orientalist stereotypes. In the diptych Untitled I & II (1996) Iraqi-born Jananne Al-Ani uses the women in her family (and herself) to show a progression in veiling, from unveiled to fully veiled, and back again. The installation of the large-format prints have the effect of trapping the viewer between the women’s unblinking stares, using the power of the lens to address myths about the oppression of Muslim women. Moroccan-born Lalla Essaydi, a former painter and alumnus of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (SMFA), uses iconography from 19th-century Orientalist paintings as inspiration to explore and question her own cultural identity. In the triptych Bullets Revisited #3 (2012), the most expansive work in the exhibition at 5 1/2 x 12 1/2 feet, and Converging Territories #29 (2004), she uses calligraphy (a typically male art form) to suggest the complexity of gender roles within Islamic culture. In Bullets Revisited #3, silver and golden bullet casings evoke symbolic violence, referencing her fear about growing restrictions on women in a new, post-revolutionary era that followed demonstrations and protests in the Arab world that began in 2010.

Like Neshat’s and Al-Ani’s work from the 1990s, the iconic series Qajar (1998) by Iranian artist Shadi Ghadirian was a point of departure for many photographers of the time. Ghadirian, who currently lives in Tehran, took pictures that illustrated issues of identity and being female in Iran. The nine prints on view from the Qajar series juxtapose young women in traditional dress with then-forbidden objects, such as boom boxes, musical instruments, and makeup, suggesting tension between tradition and modernity, restriction and freedom, public and private. Also included in the exhibition is another, later Ghadirian series that presents juxtapositions – Nil, Nil (2008), which brings to the forefront the experience of women at home during war, invoking untold tales of loss and waiting. The series includes images of bullets protruding from a handbag; a grenade in a bowl of fruit; and a military helmet hanging on the wall next to a headscarf, bringing to mind the complexities of male and female public personas and private desires.

Ghadirian’s early staged portraits laid the foundation for later photographers to address the subject of identity, including Boushra Almutawakel, a native of Yemen. Her series Mother, Daughter, Doll (2010) uses the veil to challenge social trends and the rise of religious extremism, which calls for women – and even young girls – to cover their bodies in public. The staged portraits do not denounce the hijab, but protest the extremist notions of covering bodies and the trend toward black. The nine prints on display show smiles from mother and daughter fade as their colorful clothing disappears from one picture to the next. The series ends with an image of an empty pedestal draped in black fabric as mother, daughter and doll are completely eliminated – a statement about erasing the individual through dress. Almutawakel offers a sensitive perspective on the public and private lives of young women, as does Lebanese-born Rania Matar in her series A Girl and Her Room (2009, 2010). These six portraits of young women from the Middle East capture girls in their bedrooms, surrounded by their belongings. Despite a diversity of settings and sitters, the series reflects the universally-shared experiences of coming of age and the complexities of being a young woman.

Identity is further investigated in the work of photojournalist Newsha Tavakolian, who currently lives in Tehran and whose recent photos of the Iranian elections appeared in publications from The New York Times to Time magazine. After experiencing difficulty photographing in public in 2009, she turned to fine art photography to address social issues. The exhibition presents six portraits, six imaginary CD covers, and a six-screen video from her series Listen (2010), all portraying professional singers who, as women, are forbidden by Islamic tenets to perform in public or to record CDs in their native country of Iran. Tavakolian’s singers do not appear with microphones, although each is clearly caught mid-song. Her passion for these women’s stories inspired her to create the imaginary CD covers that represent the character of each performer. The accompanying video shows the women emotionally mouthing unheard words, suggesting the idea of imposed silence. Metaphors of music, voice and expression, are also found in other works on display, such as in the Qajar series, and in Mystified (1997) by Neshat.

Tavakolian represents a generation of post-revolutionary Iranian photographers, while Neshat represents a generation of artists born before the revolution but who have left the country. Neshat left her native country in 1974 to study art in the United States before the upheaval in 1979, and she continues to draw on her cultural heritage. Eight images from her series Book of Kings (2012) will be on view in the exhibition. This recent series, translating its title from the 1,000-year-old Persian epic Shahnameh, marked a return to black-and-white photography and is composed of portraits of groups of individuals that Neshat calls the Masses, the Patriots, and the Villains. The figures in this series stand for the thousands that participated in protests, particularly the Iranian Green Movement (2009) and the Arab Spring (2011). The Masses are represented by headshots of Arab and Iranian men and women whose faces are overlaid with calligraphy – except for the eyes and mouth. The pictures are meant to be shown side by side to simulate power of the people. Just as she did in Women of Allah, Neshat pursues paradoxes of past and present and power and submission; Book of Kings also demonstrates her development and evolution as an artist.

In addition to addressing social and political issues, She Who Tells a Story also presents a new kind of documentary – artistic imagination brought to real-life experiences. Themes of war, occupation, protest, and revolt, as well as concerns about photography as a medium, all find a place in this new genre. Just as Ghadirian’s Nil, Nil recounted stories of war, Iranian Gohar Dashti’s work also tackles the subject. Both photographers grew up during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88). Dashti’s Today’s Life and War (2008) is a series of theatrical, staged photographs in which a couple pursues ordinary activities in a fictionalized battlefield. In Untitled #5, they sit as newlyweds in the shell of an abandoned car and in Untitled #7, on the ground at a makeshift traditional table celebrating the Persian New Year, Nowruz. The remaining four prints show the couple performing daily routines but interrupted by symbols of war – a tank, missile head, wall of sandbags. Dashti’s images are metaphors for the experience of war and recall her own memories of childhood living near the Iran-Iraq border.

Alternatives to Dashti’s staged documentaries can be found in the works of Egyptian Rana El Nemr and Jordanian Tanya Habjouqa, both of whom directly capture people in urban settings. In The Metro (2003), El Nemr inconspicuously shoots passengers in the car designated for women, seated or standing, deep in thought. The images convey how anonymous daily life can be, and how people interact with one another in public spaces. Habjouqa’s Women of Gaza (2009) records the experience of women in Gaza, who, like all residents of the occupied territory, live with limited freedom. Taken over a span of two months, the images celebrate modest pleasures, including a picnic on the beach, a boat ride, and an aerobics class. Habjouqa gently portrays the bright side of her subjects’ lives. Women of Gaza is one example of photojournalism on display.

Another area of exploration for Middle Eastern photographers is the medium itself. Al-Ani, Rula Halawani, and Nermine Hammam push the boundaries of photography in new ways. Al-Ani’s works Aerial I and Shadow Sites II, a single channel video, depict the Jordanian landscape from an airplane. The nearly nine-minute video, made exclusively from photographs that dissolve one into another, combine nature, flight, and technology. Halawani, a native of Palestine who currently resides in East Jerusalem, addresses the experience of destruction and displacement. In Negative Incursions (2002), a series of pictures of the 2002 Israeli invasion of the West Bank, she photographs scenes of war and then enlarges and prints them in their negative form. This technique obscures the specifics of time and place, increasing the dramatic intensity and resulting in powerful images of tanks in action, grieving mothers and families in the rubble of the aftermath. Streaks of light among the ruins are a metaphor for the plight of the Palestinian people, while thick black borders imitate the shape of a television screen to convey Halawani’s criticism of media coverage.

Hammam’s Cairo Year One (2011-12), addressing the 18-day uprising in Egypt (January 2011) and its aftermath, also experiments with uses of photography. It consists of 13 prints in two parts: Upekkha (reference to Buddhist concept of equanimity) and Unfolding (reference to folding Japanese screens). In Upekkha, Hammam imbeds photographs of soldiers in Tahrir Square within peaceful landscape scenes from postcards from her personal collection, showing the vulnerability of the young men. In contrast, the second part of the series, Unfolding, was created after the uprising was over, when it was difficult for her to photograph. In the two prints, she combines reproductions of 17th and 18th Japanese screens with photos of police brutality.

Press release from The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston website

 

Nermine Hammam. 'Dreamland' I 2011

 

Nermine Hammam (Egyptian, b. 1967)
Dreamland I
2011

 

Nermine Hammam. 'The Break' 2011

 

Nermine Hammam (Egyptian, b. 1967)
The Break
2011

 

Rana El Nemr. 'Metro #7' 2003

 

Rana El Nemr (Egyptian, b. 1974)
Metro #7
2003

 

Newsha Tavakolian. 'Don't Forget This Is Not You (for Sahar Lotfi)' 2010

 

Newsha Tavakolian (Iranian, b. 1981)
Don’t Forget This Is Not You (for Sahar Lotfi)
2010

 

Newsha Tavakolian. 'I Am Eve (for Mahsa Vahdat)' 2010

 

Newsha Tavakolian (Iranian, b. 1981)
I Am Eve (for Mahsa Vahdat)
2010

 

Boushra Almutawakel. 'Mother, Daughter, Doll series' 2010

 

Boushra Almutawakel (Yemeni, b. 1969)
Mother, Daughter, Doll series
2010

 

Shadi Ghadirian. 'Nil, Nil #4' 2008

 

Shadi Ghadirian (Iranian, b. 1974)
Nil, Nil #4
2008

 

Shadi Ghadirian. 'Untitled' 1998 From 'Qajar' series

 

Shadi Ghadirian (Iranian, b. 1974)
Untitled
1998
From Qajar series

 

Shirin Neshat. 'Roja' 2012

 

Shirin Neshat (Iranian, b. 1957)
Roja
2012

 

Shirin Neshat. 'Speechless' 1996

 

Shirin Neshat (Iranian, b. 1957)
Speechless
1996

 

 

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Avenue of the Arts
465 Huntington Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts

Opening hours:
Monday and Tuesday 10am – 4.45pm
Wednesday – Friday 10am – 9.45pm
Saturday and Sunday 10am – 4.45pm

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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