Rania Matar: SHE
Rania Matar’s monograph SHE (published by Radius Books, 2021) embraces the cultural connections and identity of young women living in the United States and in the Middle East. Being a Lebanese-born American woman, her work is informed by personal experience related to cultural belonging.
SHE features portraits of women in their 20s, a time period in a young woman’s life that can be associated with transition into womanhood. Each photograph is set within the natural environment or sometimes, in an interior space. Each portrait conveys a sense of individuality, beauty, mystery and intrigue.
The book cover sets the tone of the publication. Opening up into an assemblage of individual photographs featured within the book, they overlap and become one. Along with the bold red color on the flip side, they envelop the powerful message within.
Matar shows us that the individual is divine. She also offers us the opportunity to span cultural lines and embrace the intrinsic strengths and vulnerabilities of women coming of age.
As a Lebanese-born American woman and mother, my cross-cultural experiences inform my art. I have dedicated my work to exploring issues of personal and collective identity through photographs of female adolescence and womanhood – both in the United States where I live and the Middle East where I am from
I am focusing in this project on young women in their twenties – the ages of my own daughters. They are leaving the cocoon of home and entering adulthood. Whereas in earlier projects, I photographed young women in relationship to the curated and controlled environment of their bedrooms, I am photographing them here in the larger environment they find themselves in after they leave home, the more global and complicated backdrop that now constitutes their lives in transitions.
I portray the raw beauty of their age, their individuality, physicality, texture, and mystery. I photograph them the way I, a woman and a mother, see them: beautiful, alive, creating a personal narrative with them. The process is collaborative and the photo session evolves organically as the women become active participants in the image-making process, presiding over the environment, and making it their own. They climb on rocks and trees, jump fully dressed in dirty water and waterfalls, crawl under thorns, trespass into abandoned buildings, embracing life and getting dirty, takings risks and having fun. Given the space to express themselves, they are willing to experiment and go places neither of us thought possible just moments earlier. As a result I find myself focusing on their strength and their majestic presence.
My work addresses the states of ‘Becoming’ – the fraught beauty and the vulnerability of growing up – in the context of the visceral relationships to our physical environment and universal humanity, but it is also about collaboration, experimentation, performance, empowerment, and about pushing the limits of creativity and self-expression ‐ both for the young women and for myself.<
By collaborating with women in the United States and the Middle East, I focus on our essence, our physicality and the commonalities that make us human, ultimately highlighting how female subjectivity develops in parallel forms across cultural lines.
@Rania Matar 2022
Rania Matar was born and raised in Lebanon and moved to the U.S. in 1984. She has received several grants and awards including a 2019 CENTER First Place Choice Award, 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship, 2017 Mellon Foundation artist-in-residency grant at the Gund Gallery at Kenyon College, 2011 Legacy Award at the Griffin Museum of Photography, 2011 and 2007 Massachusetts Cultural Council artist fellowships. Matar’s work has been exhibited in museums worldwide. In 2008 she was a finalist for the Foster Award at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, with an accompanying solo exhibition. She had mid-career retrospectives at the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, and the American University of Beirut Museum. Her work is in the permanent collections of several museums, institutions and private collections worldwide, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
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