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Rania Matar grapples with issues of personal and collective identity in her work. Born in Lebanon, Matar has lived in the United States since 1984. Drawing on her cultural background, cross-cultural experiences, and personal narrative, she has produced photographic series focused on womanhood, adolescence, and periods of individual evolution.

Since 2005, Matar has collaborated with Samira, a third-generation Palestinian refugee who Matar met at the Bourj El-Barajneh Camp on the outskirts of Beirut. While the earliest images are taken inside the refugee camp, later images record Samira and Matar on ventures outside Bourg El-Barajneh, taking photographs near the sea and in other areas around Beirut. Taken across almost twenty years, Matar’s poetic photographs capture Samira growing up. The moments Matar and Samira share in these photographs are contemplative and tender, capturing states of being and transformation.

Samira at 13, Bourj El-Barajneh Refugee Camp, Beirut was taken eight years after Matar first photographed Samira. This portrait captures Samira’s growth and development, her emergence into adolescence, and the progression of her identity. Viewers are drawn to the image through striking details, such as the colorful interior environment, the interplay of different hues of blue, and the visual rhyme between the bedazzled bow on the subject’s shirt and the textiles beside her. Most significant, perhaps, is the sitter’s penetrating gaze, which suggests self-possession and confidence as she meets the eyes of her viewers. This photograph serves as a bridge between two other images of Samira in the ICA’s collection, creating a formal echo with how Samira herself spans childhood and adulthood.

Rania Matar grapples with issues of personal and collective identity in her work. Born in Lebanon, Matar has lived in the United States since 1984. Drawing on her cultural background, cross-cultural experiences, and personal narrative, she has produced photographic series focused on womanhood, adolescence, and periods of individual evolution.

Since 2005, Matar has collaborated with Samira, a third-generation Palestinian refugee who Matar met at the Bourj El-Barajneh Camp on the outskirts of Beirut. While the earliest images are taken inside the refugee camp, later images record Samira and Matar on ventures outside Bourg El-Barajneh, taking photographs near the sea and in other areas around Beirut. Taken across almost twenty years, Matar’s poetic photographs capture Samira growing up. The moments Matar and Samira share in these photographs are contemplative and tender, capturing states of being and transformation.

Samira, Hasna, and Wafa’a, Bourj El-Barajneh Refugee Camp, Beirut is the first image in this body of work, taken when Matar first met Samira. In the photograph, Samira is flanked by family members as her mother extends a tray with tea and snacks. More than just marking the beginning of Matar and Samira’s extensive relationship, the image centers themes of hospitality and hope within difficult material circumstances. It also speaks to the relationships among daughters, sisters, and mothers—a long-running theme in Matar’s practice.

Rania Matar grapples with issues of personal and collective identity in her work. Born in Lebanon, Matar has lived in the United States since 1984. Drawing on her cultural background, cross-cultural experiences, and personal narrative, she has produced photographic series focused on womanhood, adolescence, and periods of individual evolution.

Since 2005, Matar has collaborated with Samira, a third-generation Palestinian refugee who Matar met at the Bourj El-Barajneh Camp on the outskirts of Beirut. While the earliest images are taken inside the refugee camp, later images record Samira and Matar on ventures outside Bourg El-Barajneh, taking photographs near the sea and in other areas around Beirut. Taken across almost twenty years, Matar’s poetic photographs capture Samira growing up. The moments Matar and Samira share in these photographs are contemplative and tender, capturing states of being and transformation.

Samira, Jnah, Beirut, Lebanon reflects Matar and Samira’s travels outside the refugee camp to create portraits. Here, Samira is centered and set within a field of tall grasses and budding wildflowers, the Mediterranean Sea just barely visible in the background. The natural setting’s sense of freedom and openness is undercut by tangled rings of razor wire. This image, taken by peering through these barriers, raises central questions of freedom and movement as they shape Samira and Matar’s lives.

Yu-Wen Wu is a Boston-based, Taiwanese-American artist whose work examines issues of displacement, arrival, and assimilation. At the crossroads of art, science, politics, and social issues, her practice includes drawing, sculpture, site-specific video installations, community engaged practices, and public art. 

The material conversations within Wu’s practice foreground the artist’s interest in navigating her subjectivity as an immigrant to the United States and a member of the Asian diaspora. Tea, gold, and red thread are significant and recurring forms in her work, operating as cultural and personal touchstones. Intentions (III), which is composed of three strands created for Wu’s presentation in the 2023 James and Audrey Foster Prize, brings together these materials in the form of wrapped, gilded orbs that approximate Wu’s grandmother’s Buddhist prayer beads. “I remember sitting on her lap as a young child and listening to her hushed voice recite prayers and intentions,” shares the artist, who, to make this work, fashioned knotted strands of 108 (referring to the number of prayers within Buddhism) or 88 (being an auspicious number within Chinese culture) orbs in groupings that refer to other numerical systems of value, such as binary code.

Each orb is made of brewed and dried Taiwanese tea, collected by her mother and aunt, and gilded with painted gold—a material notable both for its associations with preciousness and prosperity as well as a specific reference to the history of Chinese immigration to the United States at the height of the Gold Rush. The red thread recalls ideas of bloodlines, community, and family ties across generations, geographies, and lifetimes. “Unlike circular prayer beads,” explains Wu, here the arrangement of the strands “are suspended in space, resting in a spiral, referring to open possibilities and developing intentions.” 

Kathleen Ryan is a sculptor who is best known for her three-dimensional sculptures of moldy fruit recalling vanitas and their reminder of the impermanence of life. In her practice, Ryan manipulates found and handmade forms with surprising materials—delicate grapes made of concrete, flower seed pods from a repurposed yellow showerhead, and mold using precious gemstones.  

Ryan’s series of larger-than-life, studded Bad Fruits harness the material and visual excess of gems to comment on how and why objects are valued. Fruit has long been a symbol of human consumption and decay in Western art—from Dutch Golden Age still life painting to the beaded fruit craft tradition of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s that influences her work. Playing on a genre of craft objects often given little monetary value and relegated to the shelves of thrift stores, Ryan’s work considers luxury and value.  

In Ryan’s Bad Lemon (Cameo), fake gems adorn the artificial lemon’s healthy yellow rind, while precious pearls and crystals are reserved for the moldy bacterial growths, a playful inversion of what is wanted or valued and what makes the lemon “bad.” The artist’s meticulous translation of a natural phenomenon like decay through the accumulation and arrangement of thousands of stones and beads renders the surfaces of her sculptures mesmerizing. This play between attraction and revulsion and the benefits of close looking are at the heart of Ryan’s singular practice. 

For more than two decades, acclaimed photographer An-My Lê has created arresting, poetic photographic series that address the power and theater of war and politics. Informed by the histories of landscape photography, documentary reportage, and conflict journalism, Lê’s work offers a reflection on how reality and myth are portrayed and contested.  

Since 2015, Lê’s ongoing Silent General series documents a wide range of events marking the fever pitch of American political and social conflict, from the removal of Confederate monuments to immigration and gun control. Prompted by horrific mass shooting and murder in 2015 of nine Black churchgoers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, Lê embarked upon an extended road trip to record the complexity of the unfolding moment in the United States and its relationships to longer histories. 

In Fragment IX: Jefferson Davis Monument, Homeland Security Storage, New Orleans, Louisiana, from Silent General a bronze portrait of Jefferson Davis (1808–1889)—a vocal advocate of slavery and the first and only president of the Confederate States of America, which existed from 1861 to 1865—is shown wrapped, crated, and sequestered in storage. Here, the artist captures the intense contestation around monuments and history, their relationships to white supremacy and white Christian nationalism, and a widespread public reckoning of race and power in the United States. As Lê has done for years, she evokes layers of contested histories through her seemingly everyday scenes, posing questions about not only what is represented, but how and for whom

For more than two decades, acclaimed photographer An-My Lê has created arresting, poetic photographic series that address the power and theater of war and politics. Informed by the histories of landscape photography, documentary reportage, and conflict journalism, Lê’s work offers a reflection on how reality and myth are portrayed and contested.

Since 2015, Lê’s ongoing Silent General series documents a wide range of events marking the fever pitch of American political and social conflict, from the removal of Confederate monuments to immigration and gun control. Prompted by the horrific mass shooting and murder in 2015 of nine Black churchgoers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, Lê embarked upon an extended road trip to record the complexity of the unfolding moment in the United States and its relationships to longer histories.

Fragment IV: General Robert E. Lee Monument, New Orleans, Louisiana, from Silent General (2016) locates a monument of Confederate General Robert E. Lee (1807–1870) at the end of a tree-lined street partially under construction in New Orleans. The statue was later taken down by official order and moved to an undisclosed location in 2017. Lê’s photograph evokes the ideological shifts of this transitional moment, as the elegant street with its streetlamp of an earlier time undergoes reconstruction. Here, the artist captures the intense contestation around monuments and history, their relationships to white supremacy and white Christian nationalism, and a widespread public reckoning of race and power in the United States. 

Woody De Othello is best known for playful ceramics, such as those associated with Northern California’s so-called Funk art of the late 1960s and early ’70s. An artist who foregrounds material experimentation and process, Othello features anthropomorphized domestic objects—clocks, phones, television remotes, and air conditioners—imbued with human emotions in his sculptures. According to the artist, the “objects mimic actions that humans perform.”  

Othello’s tomorrow always never is features an assemblage of several objects that recur throughout his sculptural practice, including scaled up versions of a twin bell alarm clock, a push-button telephone, a houseplant, a picture frame, a stack of books, and a handheld mirror. The objects are staged on a bright blue shelving unit that appears to bend precariously under the weight it bears. Modeled in Othello’s signature form of cartoonish figuration, each densely glazed ceramic object is slumped over and losing its shape, as if exhausted or melting. This humorous approach to representation expresses varying emotional and psychological states. At the center of the sculpture there is a drooping orange telephone and an alarm clock with wilting hands—instruments of communication and time that possess a degree of nostalgia, a sense of time slipping away. Othello’s tactile ceramic constructions convey a sense of vulnerability, which is particular to the medium but also to the way that these objects appear to be, as the artist describes them, “affected with the same type of spirit and energy as a figure.” 

Aubrey Levinthal’s figurative paintings and still lifes suggest meditative and melancholic atmosphere that offer less a portrait of her subjects than an evocation of an emotional state, expressing her interest in what she calls the “uncanny in our everyday lives.” Drawing on scenes and experiences from her life, she slowly builds up layers of thin, semitransparent washes of paint on panel and then scrapes them down with a razor, lending her works an ethereal quality as if seen through the haze of time.  

In her most recent body of work, Levinthal shifts from a focus on her private life to encounters in the public sphere, all while continuing her emphasis on intimacy, close observation, and restrained compositions. In Airport, two figures sit facing one another at a small, circular table against the unmistakable setting of an airport terminal—its enormous windows opening to a gray tarmac and cloudy sky. One of the most striking features of this work is the merged faces of the seated couple: the bearded face of the rear figure joins the turned face of the closest figure to create a singular tonal plane, where the subtlest brushstrokes both define and defy the edges of the two figures. Likely a portrait of the artist and her husband, the painting reflects Levinthal’s characteristic use of distortion to heighten the mood and convey narratives within her paintings. “I hope my work is a real, tender accounting of my particular visual life,” says the artist. “The paintings can be inventive and distorted, as I often work from memory and through process, but I want them to carry resonance of my experience, which happens to be as a painter, woman, and mother.” 

For over twenty years, São Paulo-based artist Rivane Neuenschwander has honed a distinct multimedia practice that investigates the roles of collaboration and chance in the creative act. Whether in film, photography, or installation, Neuenschwander is principally concerned with what she calls “ethereal materialism,” or the role that ephemeral or everyday materials have in creating momentary experiences of wonder, chance, and enchantment in public space. The installation Um festival embananado is the sixth installment of a series of works Neuenschwander began making in 2004 titled Zé Carioca. The series title is a reference to the comic character José “Zé” Carioca, a dapper Brazilian parrot first created in 1941 by cartoonist José Carlos de Brito. The next year, the character was famously adapted by the Walt Disney Company as a companion of Donald Duck and later of Mickey Mouse. The creation of Disney’s new character was an extension of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy, which sought to maintain strategic relations in the Americas—in this case through popular culture. Frequently featured in comic strips, animated films, and television shows, Zé Carioca has become synonymous with Brazilian culture even as the character’s stereotypical traits as a suave, streetwise malandro (rascal) speak to the complicated history of American political interference in Latin America in the twentieth century. In her series, Neuenschwander creates mural blocks of Zé Carioca’s comic panels stripped of the original text and image, leaving only vibrant, Technicolor squares and blank speech bubbles. The artist then invites the public to continue the artwork by writing or drawing directly on the murals. The result is a collective form of social and individual expression determined entirely by the chance encounter in public space.