Rania Matar- "In her image"

As the summer intern you are always sent out to do the nitty gritty parts; fortunately, at Signet Art that means going to the Amon Carter Museum to take photos for our newest video, coming out soon, and to see a current exhibition. As I was researching the current exhibitions to decide which to see while there, I came across “In her image,” photographs by Rania Matar, a collection of four of her bodies of work using portraiture to follow the development of female identity. I was intrigued by the small preview I found, so I ventured in after finishing my other task.

Living in a media filled age, I wondered what the magnitude of Matar’s work would be because if they were near the size of my phone or laptop I could brush off the intentionality of each photograph and loop them in with the rest of the portrait media I intake from social media.

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Rania Matar did not disappoint. Her portrait prints are life-size and hung just above eye level, demanding most of my field of vision. 

This exhibit holds work from four of her series’ “Unspoken Conversations,” “L’Enfant-Femme,” “Becoming,” and “A Girl and Her Room.” Each series is breathtaking, bringing together women of all ages and the differences in their personal relationships and how they are viewed beyond cultural and geographic boundaries. A personal favorite is “Brigitte and Huguette” from “Unspoken Conversations.”

 "Brigitte and Huguette, Ghazir, Lebanon" 2014

"Brigitte and Huguette, Ghazir, Lebanon" 2014

Matar captures this sweet yet heavy moment of mother and daughter. Neither of the pair looks at each other but their emotional connection is displayed in their touch and body language towards the other. The daughter lovingly kisses her mother’s hand and places her other hand on her mother’s cheek, acts of comfort that are possibly more for herself than her mother. Acts her mother embraces, still being her daughter’s rock, even in her frail state.

Matar beautifully captures the emotional side of the relationship without sacrificing the image composition or quality. 

I am drawn to this portrait because of the emotional intensity so plainly shown. It is demonstrated in a genuine manner, not dramatized but downplayed. This work could easily be passed by and likely has been in the museum and our own lives; a quiet loving moment between a mother and daughter that exhibits genuine care from both parties. For a generation addicted to posting the always perfectly posed selfies; the authentic, complex emotional relationship in this image is captivating.

 "Anna and Lucia, Newton, Massachusetts" 2016 | "Kate and Cora, Porter, Maine" 2014

"Anna and Lucia, Newton, Massachusetts" 2016 | "Kate and Cora, Porter, Maine" 2014

Another work that drew me in was from her “Becoming” series, a series of comparisons of girls and their identity, in the U.S. and the Middle East, before and during puberty.

The side by side portraits of Charlotte at age 11 and 15 exemplify the key concept in the “Becoming” series; plainly displaying Charlotte taking hold of her own identity and becoming who she wants to be. These two portraits focus on her growth as an individual. The scene and set up are almost identical focusing the portrait on her change and development.

 "Charlotte 11, Beirut, Lebanon" 2012 | "Charlotte 15, Beirut, Lebanon" 2016

"Charlotte 11, Beirut, Lebanon" 2012 | "Charlotte 15, Beirut, Lebanon" 2016

At 11, Charlotte portrays an uncertainty and uncomfortable reaction to the camera, but at 15, Charlotte is relaxed and confident in her pose for Matar. She demonstrates self-confidence in body language and facial expression. She is more open towards the camera instead of balling up as in her portrait at 11. There has also been a change in the art of her room. In the left portrait there is an innocent portrait of a woman on the beach above her bed but at 15, three images hang above her bed that are much more sensual and revealing of a woman’s body.

Out of all of the “Becoming” series Charlotte’s portraits so plainly demonstrate her transition from young girl to young woman, from uncertainty to poise. As a young woman myself, I find it encouraging to see this transition displayed in a non-sexualized way. Yes, there are elements that are more sensual but when you first look at Charlotte’s portrait at 15 you see a confident young woman staring back at you. That is the focus, her growth in assurance of herself

Matar successfully depicts the onset of womanhood in her “Becoming” series through skillfully capturing personalities and levels of confidence in each of the young women. 

Overall, one of the best nitty gritty adventures of being a summer intern. Rania Matar captures the essence of her subjects and their relationships to self, others, and the world. “In her image” will be up at the Amon Carter until June 17th, so run up there if you get a chance before the show is taken down. You don’t want to miss this.

-Abby Carlin