Photos of Middle East, USA girls featured in exhibit

The work of Lebanese-born, American-naturalized photographer Rania Matar discusses the universality of growing up for women around the globe. She is exhibiting in ‘Taswir, a fotografia árabe contemporânea,’ a show opening Thursday in São Paulo.

Isaura Daniel

São Paulo – The Lebanese-born, American-naturalized photographer Rania Matar (pictured above) took pictures of Middle East and United States girls, at different points in their lives. Her work will be featured in the exhibit Taswir, a fotografia árabe contemporânea (Taswir, contemporary Arab photography), running from Thursday (28) to April 28 at Instituto Tomie Ohtake in São Paulo. In an email interview with ANBA, Rania went in-depth about the photographs in her first showing in Brazil.

The pictures are part of Becoming, a project comprising portraits of girls aged nine to 12, and then years later, when they were 13-16. The earliest girl photos were part of another project by Rania – L’Enfant-Femme (Woman Child), which was about depicting preadolescent girls and their interaction with the camera. Becoming is a sequel to L’Enfant-Femme.

“My aim is to portray the girls’ sense of identity when allowed to pose themselves as they wish in front of the camera, and to capture alternatively the angst, the self-confidence or lack thereof, the body language, the sense of selfhood and the developing sense of sexuality and womanhood girls this age begin to experience,” says Rania.

The artist asked her subjects not to smile for the pictures. The intention is to stay away from selfie-style pictures. And because of the camera she was using, the subjects couldn’t see the pictures right away. “Accustomed to the instant gratification of viewing themselves through digital photography, the girls experience the suspense of not knowing immediately how they will be represented and they take the photo session more seriously,” explains Rania.

The photographer recalls being moved and captivated by observing the girls’ shifting bodies and attitudes over time. “And to simultaneously see the individuality of each girl as she develops her own identity, but also the universality of being a girl undergoing those natural transformations,” says the Lebanese. The photographs focus on subtle changes in body language, hand gestures, foot stance and attitude.

The exhibit in Brazil is being held by the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce and the Arab World Institute (AWI). It will feature 78 photos by 14 photographers from 12 different countries. It’s a reissue of former AWI shows, one of which on Arab civilization. It will mark March 25 – Arab Community Day in Brazil – and the Arab League’s 74th anniversary.

Rania told ANBA that her work is very personal and relates to her life as a Lebanese-American woman and mother. “As a Lebanese-born American woman and mother, my background and cross-cultural experiences inform my art,” she says.

Her photography explores questions of personal and collective identity through images of adolescents and women in both the United States and the Middle East, “in an effort to focus on notions of identity and individuality, within the context of the underlying universality of these experiences.”

Rania is enthusiastic about her showing in Brazil. “I hope my photographs make people look at women from Arab countries through a different lens. We are girls and women, just like any other woman anywhere going through the same physical, biological and emotional changes of growing up,” she says.

Rania was trained as an architect at the American University of Beirut and at Cornell University, but she always had a strong leaning towards art. She first started taking photos of her kids, 19 years ago, and fell in love with it. “It slowly became a very important part of my life,” she says. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, Rania decided to take pictures in the Middle East, in a bid to tell a different story than the “us vs. them” news rhetoric. “After that I never went back to architecture.”

Rania’s work has been shown in the United States, Lebanon, Syria, United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, the UAE, Singapore, Thailand and Argentina. Last year she was named a Guggenheim Fellow by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation – a fellowship awarded to people who display outstanding artistic abilities. Also a book author, Rania has won numerous prizes in the United States and elsewhere.

Quick facts

Exhibition: Taswir, contemporary Arab photography
Opening: March 28 ,7:30pm, guests only
Through April 28, 2019, Tuesday to Friday, 11am to 8pm
Free admission

Instituto Tomie Ohtake
Avenida Faria Lima, 201, Complexo Aché Cultural
Entrance on Rua Coropés, 88, Pinheiros, São Paulo, SP
Nearest metro station: Faria Lima Station, Line 4 – Yellow
Phone +55 11 2245-1900

Translated by Gabriel Pomerancblum

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