Posted by on October 11, 2013 in Blog

By Dena Elian
Fall Intern, 2013

Rania Matar is an Arab American photographer born and raised in Lebanon who moved to the U.S. in 1984 to study at Cornell University. Originally an architect, she expanded her trade beyond shooting portraits of her children when she grew displeased with the negative depiction of her homeland in western media. 

“I became a more serious photographer after the events of September 11,” she said. “The news [about] the Middle East was extremely disturbing. What I know of the Middle East is different from what the media was portraying.”

Having grown up during the Lebanese civil war, Matar was pained by the dehumanization of the coverage of the war in Iraq. In 2002, she visited a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon to photograph the daily lives of refugees in an attempt to capture a side of the Middle East that she felt was overlooked at the time.

“I was really shocked that people were living like that so close to where I grew up in Beirut. At the same time, I was seeing how these are people just going on with their lives and doing the best they can to raise their kids. There was such a disconnect with what you would hear from the media and what you would see on the ground.”

Matar was forced to relive the dark memories of her youth in 2006, when war broke out in Lebanon while she was visiting. Matar and her family managed to return to the U.S. safely, but she returned with her camera to Lebanon to shoot the country’s post-war condition. The compilation of the photos entitled “The Aftermath of War” became one of four bodies of work used to create her photobook, “Ordinary Lives,” which was released in 2009 and contains all the photos displayed in this post.

After that, Matar shifted her artistic attention.

“I started focusing more on duality and on teenage girls. I photograph equally girls in the U.S. and girls in the Middle East. People often ask me, ‘what is the difference?’ and for me, it’s not about the difference, it’s to show how there are things that are so universal that it doesn’t matter if it’s in the Middle East or the U.S. These girls are going through the same thing at the same time in their lives.” She demonstrates this sentiment in a body of work called “L’enfant Femme” that can be seen at Carroll and Sons Art Gallery in Boston for another two weeks.  

Matar’s most recent work is currently on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in an exhibition called, “She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World.” The show displays the work of 12 photographers who creatively and, at times, provocatively illustrate the diverse narratives of women in the Middle East. Matar uses everyday instances to reveal the parallels that exist among people despite cultural barriers.

“I am as much of an American as I am Lebanese and Palestinian and this is what made me do the work I do; to show how similar people are at the core when you look at humanity and people in their daily lives.”


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