Urgent Museum Notice

Recent Acquisitions: Rania Matar

Blog Category:  From the Collection
A light-skinned young woman with long, dark brown hair in a black, long lace sleeved dress stands confidently in a crumbling loggia. She gazes at the viewer with a serious, captivating look.

In 2019, NMWA presented the exhibition Live Dangerously, featuring photographs that portray and celebrate women in the natural world. Three works by Rania Matar (b. 1964, Lebanon) were on loan to the exhibition. These large-scale photographs, from her ongoing series “SHE” (2017–present), depict women in their early 20s in lush, colorful, tex­tured landscapes in the United States and the Middle East. Through generous gifts from museum benefactors, all three photographs—Rayven, Miami Beach, Florida (2019), Yara, Cairo, Egypt (2019), and Lea #1 Beirut, Lebanon (2019)—are now part of the museum’s collection.

In front of a stormy ocean, a woman with light skin and blonde, wind-blown hair stands with head turned in profile and eyes closed.
Rania Matar, Rayven, Miami Beach, Florida, from the series “SHE,” 2019; Archival pigment print, 37 x 44 in.; Courtesy of the artist and Robert Klein Gallery; © Rania Matar

SHE

When Matar embarked on “SHE,” her daughters had left home to attend university and enter the workforce, leading the artist to pose questions about how women face societal expecta­tions. Unlike her earlier series, which showed teenage girls in their rooms, the images in “SHE” reveal a more fully realized physicality. As her subjects mature, the women form complex relationships with envi­ronments outside the familiarity of their childhood homes.

Matar’s figures are agents of creation: as sentient, self-fashioning individuals, they construct their own identities in collaboration with the artist. In Yara, the young woman stands partially concealed in the crevasses of a banyan tree. Matar had noticed that Yara’s long limbs fit in total harmony with the trunk’s vertical shoots. Originally dressed in long sleeves, Yara changed into a sleeveless garment from her own wardrobe to emphasize the relationship between her body and the curvilinear branches. Matar recalls, “It was as [though] she became one with the tree on her own.”

Close cropped color photograph of a light-skinned woman with auburn hair standing tucked into the large roots of a tree. The woman in standing in profile and her head is bent with her hair covering her face.
Rania Matar, Yara, Cairo, Egypt, from the series “SHE,” 2019; Archival pigment print, 44 x 37 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Museum Purchase: Funds provided by the Heather and Robert Keane Family Foundation; © Rania Matar

Owing to her initial training as an architect, Matar is acutely perceptive of the character of a place, teasing out its unique qualities in her sensitive portraits. Lea #1 was photo­graphed at La Maison Rose, a dilapidated 19th-century mansion in Beirut, abandoned since the Lebanese Civil War (1975–90). Lea stands in an exterior passageway overlook­ing the Mediterranean Sea. Signs of neglect and decay throughout the composition contribute to the photograph’s melancholic beauty. For Matar, this image is a symbol of a new genera­tion—young people who did not personally experience the war but have grown up with its collective memory.

A light-skinned young woman with long, dark brown hair in a black, long lace sleeved dress stands confidently in a crumbling loggia. She gazes at the viewer with a serious, captivating look.
Rania Matar, Lea #1, Beirut, Lebanon, from the series “SHE,” 2019; Archival pigment print, 37 x 44 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Museum Purchase: Funds provided by the Heather and Robert Keane Family Foundation; © Rania Matar

Matar at NMWA

Matar’s work has been fea­tured at the museum in Live Dangerously as well as the 2016 exhibition She Who Tells A Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World. Matar has also participated in virtual and in-person public programming with enthusiastic response from the museum’s audiences. The photographs from “SHE” are the first works by the artist to enter the collection, augment­ing the museum’s holdings of contemporary photography and work by artists from the Middle East and its diasporas. Of these recent acquisitions, Matar states, “I am immensely honored that the three photo­graphs became part of the per­manent collection of a museum that celebrates women. This work is by a woman and about women, about their majestic beauty, their strength, their power, their vulnerability, their voice, all at once, and I cannot think of a better home for them.”


Text is adapted from the author’s essay “Wanderesses” for the book Rania Matar: SHE (Radius Books, 2021).

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