Photographer Rania Matar lectures at the Carnegie about how her work reflects her life
September 16, 2015 12:00 AM
Photographer Rania Matar discusses her work Tuesday in the Carnegie Lecture Hall at the Carnegie Museum of Art, including images that are part of the museum exhibition “She Who Tells a Story.”
By M. Thomas / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Rania Matar trained to be an architect at the American University of Beirut and at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. But when she began photographing her children, her professional direction changed.
Ms. Matar gave an illustrated talk about her work Tuesday night in the Carnegie Lecture Hall, Carnegie Museums, Oakland. Her lecture was held in conjunction with the exhibition “She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World,” which continues through Sept. 28 at Carnegie Museum of Art.
The exhibition includes images from Ms. Matar’s series “A Girl and Her Room” for which she photographed teenage girls in the United States and Lebanon in their bedrooms.
Pittsburgh was to have been the third and final venue for the exhibition that was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. But Catherine Evans, Museum of Art chief curator, announced Tuesday that an additional stop has been added, the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. The continuing interest in the show and fact that the catalog is now sold out are “testament to the power of the exhibition and its brilliant contents,” Ms. Evans said when introducing the speaker.
Ms. Matar was born in Lebanon of Palestinian parents and grew up in Beirut. In 1984, “when the civil war in Lebanon became too close to home,” she said, she moved to the United States and transferred to Cornell to complete her architectural studies. She now teaches documentary photography at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston.
As she took casual photographs of her young children, she realized that she enjoyed the medium and its capacity for intimacy. “From these images, I learned to appreciate the beauty of the mundane and of daily life,” she said.
Three events solidified her desire to become a photographer: The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the establishment of Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and the U.S. invasion of Iraq. “I am them, and I am us,” she thought as she watched the video game-like images of the latter on television.
Ms. Matar pursued photography at the New England School of Photography, Boston, and the Maine Media Photography Workshops, Rockport, and began teaching the medium in 2009. She also began, through arrangements with nongovernmental organizations, to present summer photography workshops for teenage girls in Lebanon’s refugee camps.
Through projected images, Ms. Matar showed the evolution of her photography from candid pictures of her children at play to the teenagers caught in a period of transition from girlhood to adulthood. Of late, she has photographed other moments of passage, of mothers and young daughters and, more recently, mature women and their aging mothers.
Whether in the U.S. or the Middle East, her subjects display similarities in such things as body language that crosses cultures, and popular culture objects that cross borders via globalization. And she discovered that sometimes a woman chooses to wear a hijab simply because it makes her feel pretty, not because she is being forced to.
“I feel my work is very much autobiographical,” Ms. Matar said. But she also acknowledged the universality that is revealed within the personal stories that she explores.
M. Thomas: email@example.com or 412-263-1925.
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