Posts Tagged ‘Orientalism

13
Apr
14

Review: ‘Hoda Afshar / Under Western Eyes’ at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 2nd April – 3rd May 2014

 

Dear readers, my apologies for the lack of local reviews and postings since the beginning of the year. It’s not that I haven’t been out and about looking at exhibitions, far from it, simply that there has been little stimulating enough to do a posting on. Photographically, it has been a very slow start to 2014 in Melbourne.

There have been disappointing exhibitions from Jacqui Stockdale at Helen Gory Galerie (Super Naturale 15 Mar – 5 Apr 2014) where the artist removed her fabulous painted backgrounds and isolated the carnivalesque figure in Victorian album ovals against non-descript, beige colours, hence robbing them of the wonderful interplay between figure and context; Jane Burton at Karen Woodbury Gallery (In Other Bodies 2 April – 3 May 2014) where her intimate, sightless, pinhole portrait photographs are overlaid with “bruised candy colours,” in reality a sickly tri-colour overlay that ruins any presence some of the more powerful images ever had; Pat Brassington at Arc One Gallery (Pat Brassington 8 April – 15 May 2014) where, despite three interesting images (Blush, Major Tom and Night Shade), the rest of the exhibition feels like the photographs are a caricature of themselves, repeating earlier statements, with the work going nowhere (success breeds complacency?); and Polly Borland at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (Wonky 28 Mar – 25 May 2014) where the staged photographs of sculptural forms are insipid to say the least and the prints have pixellation the size of golf balls. You would have thought that a person of her supposed standing in the art world would have at least got the prints right.

It is a great pleasure then to finally discover some strong exhibitions around Melbourne town that are worthy of a posting: Hoda Afshar / Under Western Eyes and Stephen Dupont / The White Sheet Series No. 1, both at Edmund Pearce; the group exhibition Khem at Strange Neighbour; The Rennie Ellis Show at Monash Gallery of Art; and the magnificent Rosemary Laing / The Paper at Tolarno Galleries. Other postings to follow in the next week or so.

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I love Hoda Afshar’s work. It’s big, bold, brash, beautiful, and it has something important to say and does so, eloquently. I only wish I could read the text written on nipple and background to further understand the intricacies and references of the work. The photographs pull back the veil on how Westerners commodify the representation of Islamic women in the form of decodable stereotypes. This reductive interpretation of the identity of Muslim women is bound up with aspects of exoticism, which has links to the influential book Orientalism (1978), by Edward W. Saïd, “a foundational text for the academic field of Post-colonial Studies, wherein the denotations and connotations of the term “orientalism” are expanded to describe what Saïd sees as the false cultural assumptions of the “Western world”, facilitating the cultural misrepresentation of the “The Orient”, in general, and of the Middle East, in particular.” (Wikipedia)

For Western society, “oriental” art emanated from a type of primitive fantasy, reflecting the increasingly exotic tastes of Europe from the late 19th-century following European colonialism. In her work Afshar interrogates aspects of a visual neo-colonialism. Here the voices of the marginalised are acknowledged but only so far as the language of acknowledgement is controlled by neo-colonialism (another form of imperialism which is an out a growth of classical colonialism) – in which the image and literature of the oppressed is controlled by societal structures that seek to delimit the nature of their independence.

As Bhabha notes, “Postcolonial perspectives emerge from the colonial testimony of Third World countries and the discourses of “minorities” within the geopolitical divisions of East and West, North and South. They intervene in those ideological discourses of modernity that attempt to give a hegemonic “normality” to the uneven development and the differential, often disadvantaged, histories of nations, race, communities, peoples.” (Bhabha, H. K. The location of culture. London: Routledge, 1994, p. 71)

Postcolonial theory formulates its critique around the social histories, cultural differences and political discrimination that are practised and normalised by colonial and imperial machineries. What Afshar does is poke a great big stick at these (visual) machineries, phenomenologies that continue to operate within the operating “theatres”, the mass-produced and parcelled consumer identities of the Western world.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

Many thankx to Edmund Pearce Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Hoda Afshar. 'Westoxicated #1' 2013

 

Hoda Afshar
Westoxicated #1
2013
Archival Pigment Print
104 x 90 cm / edition of 5

 

Hoda Afshar. 'Westoxicated #2' 2013

 

Hoda Afshar
Westoxicated #2
2013
Archival Pigment Print
104 x 90 cm / edition of 5

 

Hoda Afshar. 'Westoxicated #3' 2013

 

Hoda Afshar
Westoxicated #3
2013
Archival Pigment Print
104 x 90 cm / edition of 5

 

 

Edmund Pearce is pleased to present Under Western Eyes, a solo exhibition by Hoda Afshar. The exhibition comprises a series of digitally manipulated photographs, criticising the continual representation of Islamic women in the contemporary art world as veiled, subjugated and suppressed. This new project explores how the veil – seen as a sort of forced enclosure – has become the dominant mode of representing Islamic women in the West.

In speaking of the series Hoda states, “veiled women are often portrayed as a homogeneous group; powerless subjects whose veil serves either as a symbol and tool of oppression, or is celebrated as an exotic commodity. As such, the images of Muslim women have been reduced to easily decodable stereotypes; mass-produced and parcelled for Western audiences as a consumer item. In this series, I intend to emphasise the reductive interpretation of the identity of Muslim women in the West and praising of such imagery as an attitude bound up with aspects of exoticism.”

Hoda Afshar is a visual artist and Photographer. She is currently a PhD candidate at the Department of Art at Curtin University. After finishing a BFA, majoring in Photography, at Azad University of Art and Architecture in Tehran, she began her career as a documentary photographer. In 2006 she was selected by World Press Photo as one of the top ten young documentary photographers of Iran to attend their Educational training program. Additionally, Hoda is currently a lecturer at the Photography Studies College in Melbourne. She has also been exhibiting locally and internationally since 2007 and was short listed for prestigious photography awards such as the Moran Contemporary Photographic Prizes (2012) and the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photography Prize (2013). She lives and works in Melbourne, Australia.

 

Hoda Afshar. 'Westoxicated #5' 2013

 

Hoda Afshar
Westoxicated #5
2013
Archival Pigment Print
104 x 90 cm / edition of 5

 

Hoda Afshar. 'Westoxicated #6' 2013

 

Hoda Afshar
Westoxicated #6
2013
Archival Pigment Print
104 x 90 cm / edition of 5

 

Hoda Afshar. 'Westoxicated #7' 2013

 

Hoda Afshar
Westoxicated #7
2013
Archival Pigment Print
104 x 90 cm / edition of 5

 

Hoda Afshar. 'Westoxicated #9' 2013

 

Hoda Afshar
Westoxicated #9
2013
Archival Pigment Print
104 x 90 cm / edition of 5

 

 

Edmund Pearce Gallery
Level 2, Nicholas Building
37 Swanston Street (corner Flinders Lane)
Melbourne Victoria 3000

Opening hours:
Wed – Sat 11 am – 5 pm

Edmund Pearce Gallery 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

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I love that this blog 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.”

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.

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Gohar Dashti. 'Untitled #5' 2008

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Gohar Dashti
Untitled #5
2008

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Gohar Dashti. 'Untitled #2' 2008

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Gohar Dashti
Untitled #2
2008

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Tanya Habjouqa. 'Untitled' 2009

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Tanya Habjouqa
Untitled
2009
from the Women of Gaza series

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Tanya Habjouqa. 'Untitled' 2009

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Tanya Habjouqa
Untitled
2009
from the Women of Gaza series

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Rania Matar. 'Stephanie, Beirut, Lebanon' 2010

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Rania Matar
Stephanie, Beirut, Lebanon
2010

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Rania Matar. 'Alia, Beirut, Lebanon' 2010

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Rania Matar
Alia, Beirut, Lebanon
2010

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Rula Halawani. 'Untitled XIII' 2002

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Rula Halawani
Untitled XIII
2002

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Lalla Essaydi. 'Bullets Revisited #3' 2012

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Lalla Essaydi
Bullets Revisited #3
2012

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“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

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Nermine Hammam. 'Dreamland' I 2011

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Nermine Hammam
Dreamland I
2011

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Nermine Hammam. 'The Break' 2011

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Nermine Hammam
The Break
2011

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Rana El Nemr. 'Metro #7' 2003

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Rana El Nemr
Metro #7
2003

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

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

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

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Newsha Tavakolian
I Am Eve (for Mahsa Vahdat)
2010

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

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Boushra Almutawakel
Mother, Daughter, Doll series
2010

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Shadi Ghadirian. 'Nil, Nil #4' 2008

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Shadi Ghadirian
Nil, Nil #4
2008

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

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Shadi Ghadirian
Untitled
1998
From Qajar series

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Shirin Neshat. 'Roja' 2012

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Shirin Neshat
Roja
2012

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Shirin Neshat. 'Speechless' 1996

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Shirin Neshat
Speechless
1996

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

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

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston website

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02
Apr
13

Exhibition: ‘Light from the Middle East: New Photography’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Exhibition dates: 13th November 2012 – 7th April 2013

From the Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

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A massive posting on a fascinating subject. I know little about this area of (sometimes postcolonial) photography. The images are really strong, powerful and laden with symbology – the signifier (photograph) and signified (meaning of the photograph) evidencing signs that interrogate “the creative responses to the social challenges and political upheavals that have shaped the Middle East over the past 20 years.” The three concepts Recording, Reframing and Resisting are critical to understanding the practices of these artists as they investigate the historicity, sacrifice, repression and persecution of their peoples.

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Many thankx to the Victoria and Albert Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Newsha Tavakolian. From the series 'Mothers of Martyrs' 2006

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Newsha Tavakolian
Born Tehran, Iran, 1981. Lives Tehran
From the series Mothers of Martyrs
2006
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

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Nermine_Hammam_From_the_series_Upekkha_2011_WEB

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Nermine Hammam
Born Cairo, Egypt, 1967. Lives Cairo
The Break
2011
from the series Upekkha
Archival inkjet print
The Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

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Light from the Middle East: New Photography is the first major museum exhibition of contemporary photography from and about the Middle East. It features more than 90 works by some of the most exciting artists from the region, spanning North Africa to Central Asia. The exhibition is part of a collaboration between the British Museum and the V&A, which has over the last three years seen the development of a major collection of Middle Eastern photography thanks to substantial funding from the Art Fund. The collection of 95 works has been built in response to a surge of interest in the visual arts in the region and is beginning to remedy the under-representation of Middle Eastern photography in UK collections. Light from the Middle East includes 87 of the works from this shared collection.

The photographs on display show the creative responses to the social challenges and political upheavals that have shaped the Middle East over the past 20 years and include work made following the recent revolution in Egypt. The photographs present multiple viewpoints of a region where collisions between personal, social, religious and political life can be emotive and complex. The exhibition showcases the work of 30 artists from 13 different countries including internationally established practitioners such as Abbas (Iran), Youssef Nabil (Egypt) and Walid Raad (Lebanon) as well as emerging talents such as Taysir Batniji (Palestine), Shadi Ghadirian (Iran) and Abdulnasser Gharem (Saudi Arabia). The work covers a wide range of techniques and subject matter, from photojournalism to staged and digitally manipulated imagery.

Marta Weiss, curator of the exhibition said: “In the past few years contemporary photographic practice from and about the Middle East has been some of the most exciting, innovative and varied art anywhere in the world. The exhibition celebrates the creative and sophisticated ways that contemporary artists use photography to respond to the complexities of the Middle East.”

The exhibition is structured around three key themes; Recording, Reframing and Resisting. Each explores a range of strategies Middle Eastern artists have used to engage with the medium of photography.

The opening section shows how photography can be used as a powerful tool for recording people, places and events. From Newsha Tavakolian’s series Mothers of Martyrs (2006) featuring elderly mothers holding framed pictures of their sons who were killed in the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s, to Jananne Al-Ani’s disorienting aerial views of the desert in her video Shadow Sites II (2011), this section demonstrates various ways in which the camera has been used to document and record. The work in the second section explores an interest in reframing and reworking preexisting photographs. Shadi Ghadirian’s series Qajar (1998) recreates 19th-century Iranian studio portraits, updating them with contemporary props such as sunglasses and Pepsi cans, while Taysir Batniji applies the modernist style of the German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher to his series of photographs of Israeli watchtowers in the West Bank.

The final section looks at practitioners who resist the authority of the photograph, questioning the medium’s ability to record factual information. Whether manipulating or digitally altering images, or physically attacking the print surface by scratching and burning, these artists demonstrate a desire to undermine the legibility and reliability of the photograph. In the intimate and poetic series Le Retour Imaginaire (2002), Afghan artist Atiq Rahimi rejects new technology, opting instead to photograph war-ravished Kabul with a primitive box camera. The recent series Uphekka by Nermine Hammam reworks photographs of Egyptian soldiers taken during the protests in Tahrir Square, Cairo in 2011 and transports them to multicoloured fantasy settings that are far removed from the struggles of the Arab Spring.”

Press release from the V&A website

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Recording

Photography is a seemingly accurate means of recording people, places and events. A photograph can serve a commemorative purpose or document a historic moment. It can reveal something not otherwise visible, such as a place or event the viewer would not have access to, or a particular vantage point available only to the photographer. It can also create a lasting image of a fleeting performance, or of a scene staged only for the camera.

But how reliable is a photograph? Despite the apparent authority of photographic images, they can trick or disorient. They can be ambiguous and difficult to decipher. Their meaning can shift according to context, cropping or captioning. What are the limitations of photography?

The photographers in this section use a range of approaches to exploit and explore the camera’s capacity to record.

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Abbas. 'France Rioters burn a portrait of the Shah as a sign of protest against his regime. Tehran, December 1978' 1978-9

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Abbas
Born Kash, Iran, 1944. Lives Paris, France
Rioters burn a portrait of the Shah as a sign of protest against his regime. Tehran, December 1978
1978-9
From the series Iran Diary
Gelatin silver print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum
Abbas@Magnum Photos, courtesy Magnum Gallery

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Issa Touma. From the series 'Sufis: The day of al-Ziyara' 1995-2005

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Issa Touma
Born Safita, Syria, 1962. Lives Aleppo, Syria
From the series Sufis: The day of al-Ziyara
1995-2005
Gelatin silver print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Issa Touma is a prominent figure in the Syrian art scene. Self-taught, he began his career as a photographer in the early 1990s. In 1996 he founded Le Pont Organisation and Gallery, an independent art organisation to promote freedom of expression and stimulate the local art scene through international events.

His series on the day of al-Ziyara documents an annual procession of Sufi pilgrims in northern Syria. Sufism is a mystical path within Islam. Touma photographed the event over the course of ten years, gradually gaining the trust of his subjects. The resulting images convey his sense of immersion in the festival and capture the fervour of the worshippers.

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Waheeda Malullah. From the series 'Light' 2006

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Waheeda Malullah
Born Bahrain, 1978. Lives Bahrain
From the series Light
2006
Inkjet print on rag paper
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Waheeda Malullah uses playfulness and humour to explore social rules, and in particular the roles women play in Islamic society. In the series Light she records a performance staged expressly for the camera. By lying down next to tombs in Bahrain she exaggerates the Shi’i Muslim custom of seeking blessing by touching the tombs of revered people. These stylised compositions are also studies of form, light and shadow.

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Ahmed Mater. 'Magnetism II' 2012

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Ahmed Mater
Born Tabuk, Saudi Arabia, 1979. Lives Abha, Saudi Arabia
Magnetism II
2012
Photogravure
Acquired thanks to Mr Abdulaziz al-Turki

Ahmed Mater is a Saudi artist and qualified GP. Working in photography, calligraphy, painting, installation and video, Mater reflects his experiences as a doctor and the ways this has challenged his traditional background and beliefs, and explores wider issues about Islamic culture in an era of globalisation. In the series Magnetism, what at first appear to be pilgrims circling the Ka’ba, the sacred building at the heart of the sanctuary at Mecca, are in fact iron filings spiralling around a cube-shaped magnet. Mater refers to the spiritual force that Muslim believers feel during Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. By creating photographs that recall well-known images on a dramatically different scale, Mater also questions the reliability of photography.

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Newsha Tavakolian. From the series 'Mothers of Martyrs' 2006

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Newsha Tavakolian
Born Tehran, Iran, 1981. Lives Tehran
From the series Mothers of Martyrs
2006
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Newsha Tavakolian started her career at the age of 16, as a junior photographer for the Iranian women’s daily Zan-e Rooz. She also worked with other reformist newspapers and by the early 1990s had established herself as one of Tehran’s few female photojournalists, working internationally and particularly focussing on women’s issues. She is a founder member of the EVE international collective of women photojournalists, established in 2006 and of Rawiya, a collective of women photographers from the Middle East, founded in 2011. Her series Mothers of Martyrs shows elderly Iranian women holding framed photographs of their sons who died decades earlier in the Iran-Iraq war (1980-8). The double portraits attest to photography’s emotive power.

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Abbas Kowsari. 'Halabche' 2003

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Abbas Kowsari
Born Tehran, Iran, 1970. Lives Tehran
Halabche
2003
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Abbas Kowsari began his career as a photojournalist for the Tehran Times in 1994 and is currently Senior Picture Editor for Shargh, a popular reformist title. This photograph made in nothern Iraq presents a portrait within a portrait. The figure of a peshmerga (a Kurdish combatant) is tightly framed to exclude his face. Instead, the face of rock musician Bryan Adams, on the soldier’s T-shirt, fills a central portion of the composition. The faded black-and-white image is surrounded by saturated colours and brightly gleaming metal. The contrast reinforces the incongruity between warfare in Iraq and western pop culture.

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Abdulnasser Gharem. 'The Path (Siraat)' 2009

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Abdulnasser Gharem
Born Khamis Mushait, Saudi Arabia, 1973. Lives Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
The Path (Siraat)
2009
Inkjet print on aluminium
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Abdulnasser Gharem works across a variety of media to explore local Saudi issues. Amongst his best-known works are ‘stamp paintings’, made from industrial paint on rubber stamps, a technique devised to negotiate and comment on censorship. He combines service in the Saudi armed forces (he is currently Lieutenant Colonel) with his activities as an artist.

The subject of this photograph is a bridge in southern Saudi Arabia that was severely damaged in the early 1980s when villagers attempted to take shelter on it during a flash flood. Instead of providing a safe high ground above the floodwaters the bridge collapsed, resulting in the loss of many lives. Gharem spray-painted the word siraat repeatedly on the bridge. The word means path, and in the Qur’an it refers to ‘the path to God’.

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Tal Shochat. 'Pomegranate (Rimon)' 2010

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Tal Shochat
Born Netanya, Israel, 1974. Lives Tel Aviv, Israel
Pomegranate (Rimon)
2010
C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

In her photographs Shochat stages both figures and objects to create symbolically-laden images that often question the boundary between nature and artifice. Here she applies the conventions of studio portraiture to photographing trees. The first stage in her meticulous process is to identify the perfect specimen of a particular type of tree. When the fruit is at the height of maturity, she cleans the dust off the branches, leaves and fruit. Finally, Shochat photographs the tree, artificially lit and isolated against a black cloth background. The photographs present a view of nature that would never actually exist in a natural environment. The work highlights the tensions in photography between reality and artifice.

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Yto Barrada. 'Bricks (Briques)' 2003/2011

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Yto Barrada
Born Paris, France, 1971. Lives Tangier, Morocco
Bricks (Briques)
2003/2011
C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Yto Barrada grew up in Paris and Tangier and studied in Paris and New York. Since 2006 she has directed the Cinématèque de Tanger, a cultural centre home to an archive of Maghrebi and Arabic film and video. Barrada’s hometown of Tangier is the subject of much of her work. In this view, recently constructed buildings in various states of completion are scattered across the hillsides. The pile of bricks in the foreground seems to parallel the haphazard nature of the surrounding building projects. The untidy man-made heap echoes the form of the natural hills in the background.

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Mehraneh Atashi. 'Bodiless I' 2004

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Mehraneh Atashi
Born Tehran, Iran, 1980. Lives Tehran
Bodiless I
2004
From the series Zourkhaneh Project (House of Strength)
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Mehraneh Atashi explores the relationship between photography and power in her ongoing investigation into the possibilities of self-portraiture. Her photographic series reveal lesser-known aspects of Iranian life.

This photograph shows the inside of a zurkhana, a traditional Iranian wrestling gym, in Tehran. The artist has explained that ‘tradition forbids the breath of women’ in the zurkhana. Atashi includes herself in the scene through a reflection in a mirror. This picture within a picture emphasises her incongruous presence in a place from which women are normally excluded.

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Reframing

The artists in this section appropriate or imitate images from the past in order to make statements about the present. Their sources range from studio portraiture to fashion photography, from Old Master paintings to Modernist photographs. Using a variety of techniques, they update and interrogate, knowingly combining past and present, East and West, fact and fiction. Whether emulating or critiquing, these artists reframe existing images to new ends.

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Raeda Saadeh. 'Who will make me real?' 2003

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Raeda Saadeh
Palestinian. Born Umm al Fahem, 1977. Lives Jerusalem
Who will make me real?
2003
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

In her photographs, videos and performances, Raeda Saadeh assumes various roles to explore issues of displacement, gender and identity, with particular reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Here the artist lies in a pose that recalls 19th-century European paintings of reclining nudes. These often featured non-European women and ‘Orientalist’ costumes and scenery. Saadeh is encased in Palestinian newspapers, which conceal her body from neck to ankle while revealing its contours. The covering is both flimsy and apparently immobilising, resembling a papier-mâché body cast. Any sensuality implied by her pose is disrupted by the harsh realities reported in the newspaper.

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Bahman Jalali. 'Image of Imagination' 2003

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Bahman Jalali
Born Tehran, Iran, 1945. Died Tehran, 2010
Image of Imagination
2003
C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum
© Rana Javadi

Jalali was a photographer and teacher who played a leading role in collecting and preserving historical photographs in Iran. He was an influential teacher, mentored many of the younger generation of Iranian photographers, and was instrumental in setting up Tehran’s first Museum of Photography (also known as Akskhaneh Shahr).

In this montage he layered Qajar-period (1786-1925) portraits and an enlarged detail of an old photographic studio sign that had been crossed out with red paint. Jalali speculated that this defacement occurred during the Islamic revolution (1978-9), perhaps as an attack on a studio where unveiled women had been photographed.

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Shadi Ghadirian. From the series 'Qajar' 1998

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Shadi Ghadirian
Born Tehran, Iran, 1974. Lives Tehran
From the series Qajar
1998
Gelatin silver print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Shadi Ghadirian was among the first students to graduate in photography from the Azad University, Tehran. Her work addresses concerns of Iranian women of her generation, exploring ideas such as censorship, religion and modernity, often with a wry humour.

The series Qajar is based on a style of photograph made during Iran’s Qajar period (1786-1925). In those portraits, sitters posed with props representing their aspirations. Here, the sitters wear costumes that approximate Qajar fashion, but the objects they pose with are jarringly modern and western – a mountain bike, a stereo or a can of Pepsi. The contrast makes a comment on the tensions between tradition and modernity that women in Iran face today.

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Youssef_Nabil_Detail_from_the_series_The_Yemeni_Sailors_of_South_Shields_2006_WEB

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Youssef Nabil
Born Cairo, Egypt, 1972. Lives New York, USA
The Yemeni Sailors of South Shields (detail)
2006
Hand-coloured gelatin silver print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Youssef Nabil’s photographs and films evoke the glamour and melodrama of the golden age of Egyptian cinema in the 1940s and 50s, known as Hollywood on the Nile. This is one of a dozen portraits made as part of a project to document the last surviving Yemeni men to settle as ship-workers in South Shields, in the north of England. The area is home to one of the oldest Muslim communities in the UK. Nabil hand-coloured the black-and-white photographs in the manner of mid 20th-century Egyptian studio portraiture.

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Hassan Hajjaj. 'Saida in Green' 2000

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Hassan Hajjaj
Born Larache, Morocco, 1961. Lives London, UK, and Marrakesh, Morocco
Saida in Green
2000
Digital C-print and tyre frame
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Hajjaj is inspired by fashion photography, while also mocking its methods. He creates playful juxtapositions between global brand names and local motifs such as veils and babouches (traditional Moroccan slippers). The result is an exuberant collision of the stereotypical symbols of western consumerism and Middle Eastern tradition. The frames, which Hajjaj constructs from recycled materials, transform the photographs into three-dimensional, sculptural objects.

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Resisting

The artists in this section question the idea that a photograph can tell the truth. Some digitally alter images. Some scratch negatives and prints, or even burn them. Other artists reject clarity and detail in favour of processes that rely on chance. The results are murky, atmospheric images that require effort to interpret. These manipulations demonstrate the fragility of the photograph, whether at the hands of artists or censors. They also lay bare the power of photographic imagery to influence and control through propaganda or surveillance. These works resist photography’s claim to accuracy and authority.

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Atiq Rahimi. 'On the threshold of time (Au seuil du temps)' 2002

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Atiq Rahimi
Born Kabul, Afghanistan, 1962. Lives Paris, France
On the threshold of time (Au seuil du temps)
2002
From the series The Imaginary Return (Le retour imaginaire)
Gelatin silver print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Atiq Rahimi is a writer, film director and photographer who fled Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion in 1984, seeking political refuge in France, where he is now based. He returned to Afghanistan in 2002, after the fall of the Taliban. Confronted by the ruins of Kabul, he decided not to photograph the city with his digital camera. Instead he chose a primitive box camera normally used to take identity portraits in the streets of Kabul. The unpredictable process resulted in dreamlike photographs. They convey the nostalgia and brutal feelings of loss that Rahimi experienced when revisiting the war-wounded city.

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Jowhara AlSaud. 'Airmail' 2008

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Jowhara AlSaud
Born Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 1978. Lives Jeddah and New York, USA
Airmail
2008
From the series Out of Line
C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Jowhara AlSaud’s photographs explore the language of censorship and the malleability of photography. AlSaud scratches the outlines of figures from her personal photographs into photographic negatives, which she then prints. By reducing the figures to line drawings she renders them anonymous. The embracing figures hint at farewells and longing. The envelopes suggest thwarted attempts at communication. AlSaud’s hybrid technique of drawing and photography critiques the censorship of visual communication in Saudi Arabia.

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Şükran Moral. 'Despair' 2003

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Şükran Moral
Born Terme, Turkey, 1962. Lives Rome, Italy, and Istanbul, Turkey
Despair
2003
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Şükran Moral works in photography, sculpture, video and performance, creating bold and often controversial works that critique society and its institutions. Violence against women is a major theme. She has also made work about other groups who lack societal power, including the mentally ill, children, immigrants and prostitutes.

In this image, brightly-coloured birds, what Moral calls ‘digital nightingales’, perch on a group of migrant workers huddled in a boat. According to the artist, in Turkish literature nightingales are a symbol of hope, love and separation. The men and boys are shown in black-and-white, at the mercy of their situation. The birds, however, are free to fly away.

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Nermine Hammam. 'Armed Innocence II' 2011

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Nermine Hammam
Born Cairo, Egypt, 1967. Lives Cairo
Armed Innocence II
2011
From the series Upekkha
Archival inkjet print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Influenced by a background in film and graphic design, Nermine Hammam works in series, making prints that combine elements of painting and photography, often digitally manipulating and layering images to represent subjects in states of abandonment or altered consciousness. When the army was called in to respond to the protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in January 2011, Hammam was struck by the vulnerability of the soldiers. They seemed to want to be anywhere but there. In the Uppekkha series she transports these soldiers into vibrant fantasy settings. Reminiscent of postcards, the series likens the events of Tahrir Square to a tourist attraction that drew the world’s attention, but was not fully understood.

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Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige. 'Wonder Beirut #13, Modern Beirut, International Centre of Water-skiing' 1997-2006

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Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige
Both born Beirut, Lebanon, 1969. Live Beirut and Paris, France
Wonder Beirut #13, Modern Beirut, International Centre of Water-skiing
1997-2006
From the series Wonder Beirut: The Story of a Pyromaniac Photographer
C-print mounted on aluminium with face mounting
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum
Courtesy of the artists and CRG Gallery, New York and In Situ / Fabienne Leclerc, Paris

Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige collaborate as filmmakers and artists, producing cinematic and visual art work that intertwine. In the series Wonder Beirut they use photography to blur fact and fiction. The artists noticed that tourist postcards of pre-civil war Beirut were still for sale after the war ended in 1990. They invented a fictional photographer named Abdallah Farrah who, in 1968, was commissioned by the tourist board to make postcard views of Beirut’s attractions. When the civil war broke out in 1975, he began to burn his negatives to reflect the surrounding destruction. The artists present these works as prints from the fictional photographer’s damaged negatives.

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John Jurayj. 'Untitled (Large Embassy with Red Mirror #1)' 2007

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John Jurayj
Born Evanston, Illinois, USA, 1968. Lives New York, USA
Untitled (Large Embassy with Red Mirror #1)
2007
Inkjet print on watercolour paper, with burn holes and mirrored Plexiglas
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Using a variety of media, including painting, print-making, sculpture and video, John Jurayj explores the impact of the Lebanese civil war (1975-90), as both a world conflict and an identity trauma. He often re-works photographs of Lebanon from family albums, press archives and online databases. Here he translates the brutality of war into an attack on the photograph itself. He enlarges to near abstraction a news photograph of the bombed US embassy in Beirut in 1984. The image is further disrupted by the holes burnt into the paper. The holes are then filled in with red, mirrored Plexiglas.

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06
Sep
09

Exhibition: ‘In Focus: Making A Scene’ at The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 30th June – 18th October 2009

 

What a fabulous selection of photographs to illustrate a fascinating “scene”. I love staged, theatrical, constructed, conceptual, collaged, surreal, imaginary, narrative photography.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the J. Paul Getty Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Hill & Adamson (Scottish, active 1843-1848) '[Lane and Peddie as Afghans]' 1843

 

Hill & Adamson (Scottish, active 1843-1848)
[Lane and Peddie as Afghans]
1843
Salted paper print from a paper negative
20.6 × 14.3 cm (8 1/8 × 5 5/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum

 

 

The team of Hill and Adamson initially began making dramatic portrait photographs as studies for one of Hill’s composite paintings. They also produced costume studies, including this scene in which Arabic scholar Mr. Lane and Mr. (Peddie) Redding appear in foreign garb.

 

Unknown maker, French. 'Woman Reading to a Girl' c. 1845

 

Unknown maker, French
Woman Reading to a Girl
c. 1845
Daguerreotype
9.1 × 7.1 cm (3 9/16 × 2 13/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum

 

 

Through a skilful manipulation, the light coming from above and behind the figures casts the faces of mother and child in a softly modulated half-shadow. Their close grouping and familiar, intimate gestures evoke tenderness. The reflected light on the woman’s pointing finger and on the glowing white pages of the open book forms a strong visual triangle, drawing the viewer’s eye and serving to integrate and balance the composition.

 

Oscar Gustave Rejlander (British, born Sweden, 1813-1875) 'The Infant Photography Giving the Painter an Additional Brush' c. 1856

 

Oscar Gustave Rejlander (British, born Sweden, 1813-1875)
The Infant Photography Giving the Painter an Additional Brush
c. 1856
Albumen silver print
6 × 7.1 cm (2 3/8 × 2 13/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum

 

 

Oscar Rejlander’s photograph could be read as a metaphor of his own career. The additional “brush” or image-making tool provided by photography to painters was evident from the beginnings of the medium. Many early practitioners arrived at photography from painting, as did Rejlander. Photographs were often thought of and used as sketching tools for painters. Although photographs never managed to signal the death of painting as initially predicted, they did frequently assume the function that drawing had traditionally held in relation to painting.

Compositionally, this is an unusual photograph. Rejlander employs a narrative device from painting: the use of figures, or parts of figures, as allegorical representations for ideas. A very young child represents the infant medium of photography. The Painter appears only as a hand extending into the frame at the upper left, although the traditional arts are also represented by the sculpture reproduction in the lower left corner. The Infant Photography, identified by the camera on which the child supports himself, faces away from the camera, his features totally obscured. The mirror behind the child gives a clear reflection of Rejlander at his camera, making this image.

 

Roger Fenton (English, 1819-1869) 'Contemplative Odalisque' 1858

 

Roger Fenton (English, 1819-1869)
Contemplative Odalisque
1858
Albumen silver print
35.9 × 43.8 cm (14 1/8 × 17 1/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum
Gift of Professors Joseph and Elaine Monsen

 

 

Three years after traveling in the Crimea, Roger Fenton made a series of Orientalist photographs in his London studio using props gathered during his travels and non-Eastern models. Orientalism refers to just such romanticised depictions of imagined scenes of Muslim culture in the Ottoman Empire and its territories in the Near East and North Africa.

Orientalist scenes were more often fiction than fact. Cultural biases and misunderstandings were laid down on paper or canvas and frequently became the only source of information on the subjects depicted. When a group of these Orientalist photographs was exhibited in 1858, one reviewer described them as “truly representing some phases in the life of this interesting people.”

But not everyone so easily accepted Fenton’s images at face value; a more astute critic called for “the necessity of having real national types as models.” The same model shown here also appears as “Nubian” and “Egyptian” in other photographs by Fenton. This photograph may have originally been exhibited with the title The Reverie. The odalisque, meaning a slave or concubine in a harem, poses upon her sofa. Barefoot, blouse open, her surroundings convey a sensual disarray that conforms to an Orientalising fantasy of the available woman.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, born India, 1815-1879) 'The Rosebud Garden of Girls' June 1868

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, born India, 1815-1879)
The Rosebud Garden of Girls
June 1868
Album silver print
29.4 × 26.7 cm (11 9/16 × 10 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum

 

 

As evolutionary science and increasing secularism transformed the way Victorians understood the world, Cameron remained a devout Christian. She photographed influential public figures of her day as well as the women of her household, casting them in allegories of literary and religious subjects. Like her artistic contemporaries, the Pre-Raphaelite painters, who modelled their work on medieval religious and mythological art, Cameron intended her photographs to evince a connection between the spiritual and the natural realms.

 

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, born India, 1815-1879)
Venus Chiding Cupid and Removing His Wings
1872
Album silver print
32.4 × 27.3 cm (12 3/4 × 10 3/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum

 

Lewis Carroll (British, 1832-1898) 'Saint George and the Dragon' June 26, 1875

 

Lewis Carroll (British, 1832-1898)
Saint George and the Dragon
June 26, 1875
Albumen silver print
12.2 × 16.2 cm (4 13/16 × 6 3/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum

 

 

Like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and his other books, Carroll’s photographs are fantasies starring the children of his friends. In this production, the Kitchin siblings enacted the romantic legend of Saint George, the patron saint of England, who slayed a child-eating dragon before it devoured a princess. George later married the rescued princess and converted her pagan town to Christianity. Using crude stagecraft to reference key plot points, Carroll condensed the entire legend into a single scene in which the princess appears as both damsel in distress and bride.

 

Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (German, 1856-1931) 'Untitled [Two Male Youths Holding Palm Fronds]' c. 1885 - 1905

 

Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (German, 1856-1931)
Untitled [Two Male Youths Holding Palm Fronds]
c. 1885 – 1905
Albumen silver print
23.3 × 17.5 cm (9 3/16 × 6 7/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum

 

Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (German, 1856-1931) 'L'Offerta' (The Offering) 1902

 

Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (German, 1856-1931)
L’Offerta (The Offering)
1902
Albumen silver print
22.4 × 16.8 cm (8 13/16 × 6 5/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum

 

 

Von Gloeden left Germany and settled in a coastal town in Sicily, where he took up photography. His subjects were young native boys, whom he often photographed nude in classical compositions. Rather than reenact specific historical or literary scenes, von Gloeden mused nostalgically on the ancient Greek and Roman ancestry of his attractive models.

 

Guido Rey (Italian, 1861-1935) '[The Letter]' 1908

 

Guido Rey (Italian, 1861-1935)
[The Letter]
1908
Platinum print
21.9 × 17 cm (8 5/8 × 6 11/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum

 

 

A deliberate homage to an earlier artistic style that Guido Rey admired, the composition derives from a painting made by Dutch artist Jan Vermeer in the 1600s. In this posed scene, a young suitor bearing flowers approaches a woman seated at her writing desk, with her pen poised in mid-air as she turns to greet him. A leaded glass window opens into her room, providing a natural light source for the photograph’s illumination. The mounted corner clock, decorative jar on the desk, and painting on the wall were Rey’s everyday household items or objects borrowed from friends, carefully chosen for period accuracy. Likewise, a seamstress who lived in the attic of Rey’s home in Turin created the costumes to his specifications.

 

 

“Photography, although commonly associated with truthfulness, has been used to produce fiction since its introduction in 1839. The acceptance of staging, and the degree of its application, has varied greatly depending on the genre and the historical moment, but it has persisted as an artistic approach. The photographs in this exhibition, drawn exclusively from the J. Paul Getty Museum’s collection, make no pretence about presenting the world as it exists; instead, they are the productions of directors and actors who rely on stagecraft and occasional darkroom trickery to tell stories.
 Spanning photography’s history and expressing a range of sentiments, the images in this exhibition are inspired by art history, literature, religion, and mainstream media.

Like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and his other books, Lewis Carroll’s photographs are fantasies starring his friends’ children. In the image below, children enact the mythological story of Saint George, the patron saint of England, slaying a child-eating dragon before it could devour a princess.

 

Life Imitating Art

Well-represented in this exhibition are tableaux vivants (living pictures), inspired by the popular Victorian parlour game in which costumed participants posed to resemble famous works of art or literary scenes.
The genre paintings of 17th-century Dutch masters Johannes Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch fascinated Guido Rey. Not self-conscious about being slavish to the past, he carefully studied the paintings and then arranged similar tableaux for his camera. His photographs captured equally serene domestic scenes and mimicked the minute architectural details of 17th-century interiors, such as the leaded-glass windowpanes and the checkerboard floor.

 

Playing Dress Up

The exhibition also includes costume studies of people posing as literary characters and self-portraits of artists pretending to be other people. 

American painter and photographer Man Ray and the French artist Marcel Duchamp met in New York in 1915, and they began a playful, iconoclastic collaboration that resulted in the photograph (above), among others. Influenced by Dadaism, a cultural movement that rejected reason and logic in favour of anarchy and the absurd, their work embraced games of chance, performance, and wordplay. Here an irreverent Duchamp appears in women’s clothing as his alter ego, Rrose Sélavy, a pun on the French pronunciation “Eros, c’est la vie” (Sex, that’s life).

 

Imaginary Subjects

A number of photographs in the exhibition explore the medium’s capacity to visualise subjects of the imagination by using darkroom trickery to manipulate prints.
 An optician and family man, Ralph Eugene Meatyard photographed his children, friends, and neighbours enacting dramas in suburban backyards and abandoned buildings near his Lexington, Kentucky, home. He often used experimental techniques, such as multiple exposures and blurred motion. Uncanny details imbue Meatyard’s otherwise ordinary vernacular scenes with the qualities of a dream or supernatural vision.

 

Theatricality as a Critical Strategy

In recent decades there has been renewed interest in theatricality among contemporary photographers whose highly artificial scenes critique mainstream media and representation.
 In her series Family Docudrama Eileen Cowin blurs the boundaries between truth and fiction, and private behaviour and public performance. Drawing equally from family snapshots and soap operas, Cowin presents staged domestic scenes in which she and members of her family, including her identical twin sister, perform as actors. In these ambiguous, open-ended narratives, dramatic moments are exaggerated, and the camera’s glare is ever present.”

Text from The Getty Museum website [Online] Cited 16/04/2019

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Rrose Sélavy (Marcel Duchamp)' 1923

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Rrose Sélavy (Marcel Duchamp)
1923
Gelatin silver print
22.1 × 17.6 cm (8 11/16 × 6 15/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum
© Man Ray Trust ARS-ADAGP

 

 

When Man Ray moved to Paris, he was greeted by his friend and artistic compatriot Marcel Duchamp, who introduced him to members of the Dada circle of writers and artists. The two men had collaborated in a number of creative endeavours in New York, including the creation of a female alter-ego for Duchamp named Rrose Sélavy (a pun on the French pronunciation Eros, c’est la vie “Sex, that’s life”). Man Ray photographed Duchamp several times as Rrose Sélavy.

 

Man Ray. 'Larmes' 1930

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Larmes (Tears)
1930-1932
Gelatin silver print
22.9 × 29.8 cm (9 × 11 3/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum
© Man Ray Trust ARS-ADAGP

 

 

Judging from his inclusion of this image in other photographic compositions, Man Ray must have considered Tears one of his most successful photographs. A cropped version of it with a single eye also appears as the first plate in a 1934 book of his photographs.

Like the emotive expression of a silent screen star in a film still, the woman’s plaintive upward glance and mascara-encrusted lashes seem intended to invoke wonder at the cause of her distress. The face belongs to a fashion model who cries tears of glistening, round glass beads; the effect is to aestheticise the sentiment her tears would normally express. Man Ray made this photograph in Paris around the time of his breakup with his lover Lee Miller, and the woman’s false tears may relate to that event in the artist’s life.

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Le Simulateur (The Pretender)' 1936

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Le Simulateur (The Pretender)
1936
Gelatin silver print
26.6 × 21.7 cm (10 1/2 × 8 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum
© Dora Maar Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

 

 

In this picture Dora Maar constructed her own reality by joining together several images and rephotographing them. The seamlessness of the photographic surface makes this construction believable and leaves the viewer wondering about the strange world the figure inhabits. On closer examination, the viewer may notice that the floor is an upside-down ceiling vault, that the bricked-in windows are drawn in by hand, and that the figure was added separately. Despite these discoveries, the picture resists logical interpretation.

 

Ralph Eugene Meatyard (American, 1925-1972) 'Untitled (Michael and Christopher Meatyard)' 1966

 

Ralph Eugene Meatyard (American, 1925-1972)
Untitled (Michael and Christopher Meatyard)
1966
Gelatin silver print
16.8 × 17.5 cm (6 5/8 × 6 7/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum
Gift of Christopher Meatyard and Jonathan Greene
© Estate of Ralph Eugene Meatyard

 

 

An optician and family man, Meatyard photographed his children, friends, and neighbours enacting dramas in the suburban backyards and abandoned buildings of Lexington, Kentucky. He often used experimental techniques, such as multiple exposures and blurred motion. Uncanny details imbue Meatyard’s otherwise ordinary vernacular scenes with the qualities of a dream or supernatural vision.

 

Lucas Samaras. 'Photo-Transformation' November 22, 1973

 

Lucas Samaras (American, born Greece, 1936)
Photo-Transformation
November 22, 1973
Polaroid SX-70 dye diffusion print
7.6 × 7.6 cm (3 × 3 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum
© Lucas Samaras

 

 

In this self-portrait, Lucas Samaras reaches out as if trapped in the photograph. In sharp contrast to the indistinct background of his upper body, his crisply defined fingers curl forward, as if he is searching for a way to transcend a two-dimensional world of his own creation. An overriding sense of claustrophobia defines this image, underscored by the small scale of the Polaroid print. Samaras, a hermit-like person, made many Polaroid self-portraits like this in the 1970s as a means of observing himself. The images are open to a wide range of interpretation. Here, Samaras may have tried to convey the sense of isolation he experiences as a reclusive person.

 

Lucas Samaras. 'Photo-Transformation' September 9, 1976

 

Lucas Samaras (American, born Greece, 1936)
Photo-Transformation
September 9, 1976
Polaroid SX-70 dye diffusion print
7.6 × 7.6 cm (3 × 3 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum
© Lucas Samaras

 

 

As if engaging in a tug-of-war with himself, Lucas Samaras confronts and struggles with his own reflection in this self-portrait. The leg-less reflection is incomplete, however, giving the impression of a deformed adversary. A monochromatic polka-dot background and a vibrant green and red border act as a stage for this dramatic struggle.

Samaras’s Photo-Transformations, which he made in the 1970s as a means to examine various facets of himself, could be understood as visual manifestations of internal conflict. They are complex psychological investigations that, according to at least one critic, illustrate one person’s efforts toward spiritual healing.

 

Lucas Samaras (American, born Greece, 1936) 'Photo-Transformation, 1976'

 

Lucas Samaras (American, born Greece, 1936)
Photo-Transformation, 1976
1976
Polaroid SX-70 dye diffusion print
7.6 × 7.6 cm (3 × 3 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum
© Lucas Samaras

 

 

Submerged in narcissism, nothing remains… but “me and myself, I am my own audience, the other, contemplating my existence.”

Made in the 1970s as a means of studying himself, Lucas Samaras’s photographs illustrate the internal struggle that can occur between conflicting aspects of one personality. Bent over a captain’s chair, Samaras rests his head as if he is at the guillotine. Another blurry form hovers above, about to violently attack the submissive figure.

Samaras made his Photo-Transformations, a series of self-portraits, with SX-70 Polaroid film. Still wet, the film’s emulsions could be manipulated to alter the finished image. He used straight pins, rubber erasers, and other simple tools to “draw” into the developing surface. For this portrait, he created a diamond pattern over and around the dominant figure that underscores the frenzy of motion.

 

Joel Peter-Witkin (American, born 1939) 'Mother and Child (with Retractor, Screaming)' 1979

 

Joel Peter-Witkin (American, born 1939)
Mother and Child (with Retractor, Screaming)
1979
Gelatin silver print
36 × 36 cm (14 3/16 × 14 3/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum
© Joel-Peter Witkin

 

Eileen Cowin (American, born 1947) 'Untitled' from the series 'Family Docudrama' 1980-1983

 

Eileen Cowin (American, born 1947)
Untitled from the series Family Docudrama
1980-1983
Chromogenic print
48.4 × 60.7 cm (19 1/16 × 23 7/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum
Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council
© Eileen Cowin

 

 

In her series Family Docudrama Cowin blurs the boundaries between truth and fiction, and private behaviour and public performance. Drawing equally from family snapshots and soap operas, she presents staged domestic scenes in which she and members of her family, including her identical twin sister, perform as actors. In these ambiguous, open-ended narratives, dramatic moments are exaggerated and the camera’s glare is ever present.

 

 

The Getty Museum at the Getty Center
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, California 90049

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday 10 am – 5.30 pm
Saturday 10 am – 9 pm
Closed Mondays

The Getty Museum 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: ‘Mask’ 1994

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