In this ongoing series, Prestige profiles some of the high-profile, international female artists who will have their work displayed at BAB 2020. Here, we take a closer look at the work of photographer Rania Matar.
Born in Lebanon, Rania Matar currently lives in the USA where she is an associate professor of photography at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Her breathtaking images are in the permanent collections of several museums, and she has published three books of her photography, with a fourth due in 2021. At BAB 2020 she will have two series of photos on display at the BAB Box at One Bangkok.
Tell us about your upcoming participation in the Bangkok Art Biennale, and how it conforms to the BAB 2020’s ‘Escape Routes’ theme?
I have two bodies of work exhibited in the Bangkok Biennale. Nine images are part of SHE, a project that explores what it is like to be a young woman in her 20s in today’s world. I am photographing young women of different backgrounds, both in the Middle East and the United States, 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. The other body of work exhibited is part of ‘On Either Side of the Window’, a series of portraits made during the Covid-19 lockdown. While one series literally shows a sense of being free and in transition into the life of adulthood while presiding over the landscape, the other series shows a longing to escape while being trapped inside.
Have you ever been to Bangkok before?
I have never been to Thailand and was very much looking forward to the trip, as I was planning on being in Bangkok for the opening of the biennale. Unfortunately, due to the worldwide pandemic and travel restrictions, I will not be able to make it – at least not to the opening. If things change and I can come later while the exhibition is still up, I would love that! I had work exhibited in Singapore at Sana Gallery in late 2012, in an exhibition titled: Ordinary Lives: Women of the Middle East. The exhibition then traveled to Thailand in 2014 and was on view at the Toot Yung Gallery. So, my work has been, but not me.
How has the global pandemic affected your biennale exhibit?
Originally, I was only exhibiting work from my series SHE at BAB 2020. Then, as I was creating new work during the pandemic, and made the series of portraits across the windows, the curators saw this work and thought it was appropriate for the theme of the Bangkok Biennale and decided to add some of this new work to the exhibition. I am thrilled!
Does your gender identity play a major role in your art, and do you feel it influences the pieces you create?
My role as a woman, and as a mother, plays a big role in my photography. 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 focus on notions of identity and individuality within the context of the underlying universality of these experiences; puberty, growing up, growing old, etc. I work with girls and women very intimately. I want to empower them though the process and make sure they are active participants in the image-making process. I photograph them the way I, a woman and a mother, see them: beautiful and alive. So, yes, I guess it plays an important role.
Although born Lebanon, you now live in the USA. Both countries are currently going through severe unrest. How has all this affected you?
Indeed, it is a mess in both my countries… sadly. The [port explosion] tragedy in Lebanon propelled me to work on fundraising for an organisation based in New York that sends help to Beirut. I offered 2 prints, each in an edition of 30 (+3 APs) for US$1,000 each. They both sold out in less than a week helping me raise $67,000 for SEAL’s Beirut Emergency Fund (Social & Economic Action for Lebanon). I was immensely humbled by people’s kindness, generosity and support. I decided to focus on this sense of humanity rather than on the awful governments in both of my counties. We are better than that. I am hoping to go to Lebanon [soon] and explore the situation on the ground firsthand.
The Bangkok Art Biennale 2020 runs until January 31, 2021. Find out more at bkkartbiennale.com.