Urgent Museum Notice

Opening This Week: Live Dangerously

Blog Category:  NMWA Exhibitions
Xaviera Simmons, <i>One Day and Back Then (Standing)</i>, 2007; Chromira c-print, 30 x 40 in.; Collection of Darryl Atwell; © Xaviera Simmons, Courtesy David Castillo Gallery

Live Dangerously reveals the bold and dynamic ways in which female bodies inhabit and activate the natural world. Twelve groundbreaking photographers, including Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Kirsten Justesen, Xaviera Simmons, Janaina Tschäpe, and Rania Matar, use humor, drama, ambiguity, and innovative storytelling to illuminate the landscape as means of self-empowerment and personal expression. On view September 19, 2019–January 20, 2020.

Traditionally, representations of female figures in art history have shown women passively linked to the landscape through gendered associations of nature, eroticism, and fertility. In contrast, Live Dangerously presents fierce, dreamy, and witty images of women presiding over the landscape—all through the lens of the female gaze. From the groundbreaking work of Ana Mendieta to the first-ever installation of all 100 large-scale photographs in Janaina Tschäpe’s 100 Little Deaths (1996–2002), the artists illuminate the planet’s surface as a stunning stage for human drama. Learn about a sampling of the works presented in the exhibition:

On Stage

In Live Dangerously, the earth is dynamic stage that challenges us to view ourselves and our environments in new ways. Xaviera Simmons (b. 1974) uses her wide-ranging work to address questions of marginalized bodies in landscapes, particularly regarding womanhood and blackness in the United States. In One Day and Back Then (Standing) (2007), a self-portrait in which she gazes directly out at the viewer, Simmons appears tucked into a thicket of reeds, in a dark trench coat, crowned by a curly Afro and dressed in blackface. The image forces the viewer to confront complicated questions, such as the identity and intentions of the subject, and the meaning of blackface in this context. Simmons further reflects on the current social status of both black and white Americans: “How might our entire history have been different had America fulfilled its emancipatory promises to its freed slaves and their descendants instead of commemorating its defeated Confederate planters?”

Xaviera Simmons, One Day and Back Then (Standing), 2007; Chromira c-print, 30 x 40 in.; Collection of Darryl Atwell; © Xaviera Simmons, Courtesy David Castillo Gallery

In Her Element

Artists in Live Dangerously claim their natural environments. Rather than seeming daunted by these extreme landscapes, figures climb, run, and swim through varied terrain, freely and boldly embracing the sublime elements of nature. In her “Ice Pedestal” series (2000, printed 2015), Danish artist Kirsten Justesen (b. 1943) positions herself atop blocks of ice wearing only rubber boots and gloves, letting the ice blocks melt and then refreezing the puddles. Her photographs record this repetitive process of transition from solid to liquid to solid, capturing the idea of mutability and impermanence of the world.


Female bodies activate the land throughout Live Dangerously. At times, they appear to be in precarious circumstances, and in others, they intentionally rebel and disrupt societal expectations of genteel, compliant women. In her “SHE” series (2016–ongoing), Rania Matar (b. 1964) photographs young women in lush landscapes in the United States and the Middle East to portray their individual beauty through their relationships with their environments. Matar’s model in Yara, Cairo, Egypt (2019) stands partially obscured in the crevices of a banyan tree, her limbs echoing the trunk’s vertical shoots to create an uncanny air of mystery.

Rania Matar, Yara, Cairo, Egypt, from the series “SHE,” 2019; Archival pigment print, 44 x 37 in.; Courtesy of the artist and Robert Klein Gallery; © Rania Matar

The works in Live Dangerously employ humor, performance, ambiguity, and inventive storytelling to reveal the ways in which female bodies inhabit, and animate, their natural surroundings. The photographers in this exhibition shed new light on the Earth’s surfaces and elements as catalysts for self-expression.

Related Posts

  • A Closer Look—Mary Ellen Mark: Girlhood

    Posted: Apr 05, 2021 in NMWA Exhibitions
    Mark often took personal interest in those she met and photographed. Learn about the photographer's relationships with several of her subjects, who she portrayed with empathy, humor, and candor.
    A black-and-white photograph of a light-skinned girl submerged in a white bathtub. Only her head is visible above the soap suds, and her dark hair hangs over the side of the tub. The floor beneath the tub is tiled.
    Blog Category:  NMWA Exhibitions
  • Women to Watch 2020: Joli Livaudais

    Posted: Mar 31, 2021 in Artist Spotlight
    Learn about artist Joli Livaudais's process and work, which was featured in Paper Routes, the latest installment of NMWA's Women to Watch exhibition series.
    A light-skinned woman with short brown hair stands in front of a white wall to which paper beetles, sculpted out of photographs, are affixed. The woman holds a beetle in her open palm, while others are arranged atop her brown leather jacket. She smiles slightly at the camera while leaning against the wall.
    Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight
  • Cover to Cover: Tatter, Bristle, and Mend

    Posted: Mar 22, 2021 in Museum Shop
    Published by NMWA, the fully-illustrated exhibition catalogue Sonya Clark: Tatter, Bristle, and Mend features new texts on Clark’s art by esteemed guest scholars and artists.
    A close up photograph of braided black hair woven into cloth featuring colonial narrative scenes.
    Blog Category:  Museum Shop