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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.

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. 

An acclaimed artist working primarily in the media of photography, film, and video, Shirin Neshat creates art that contends primarily with the experiences and struggles of Iranian women through the lens of religion, femininity, and modernity. Neshat’s film and photographs are concerned with the social relationships between women and men in Muslim societies and prompt important questions on representations of Muslim women in contemporary art. The photograph Untitled is from a series made the same year titled Passage, depicting scenes from Neshat’s single-channel video Passage from 2001. With an accompanying score by the composer Philip Glass (who originally commissioned Passage), the video was originally shot on 35mm film in the Moroccan seaside city Essaouira, and in the Moroccan desert at a halfway point between Marrakesh and Casablanca. The video is composed in three parts: the first follows a group of men carrying a body prepared for burial; the second, a group of women preparing a place for burial by digging into the ground with their hands; and the third, a young girl playing alone as the burial concludes with a funeral pyre. This photograph draws from the second part of the film, showing the women in a tight circle on their hands and knees, conflating the forms of their huddled bodies with the dry, rocky landscape. Likewise, their tightly gathered bodies resemble the form of the funeral pyre, layering nuanced meaning through these visual metaphors on the role of gender, performance, and ritual. 

Sandra Cinto rose to prominence in the late 1980s. In her drawing-based work, she develops the possibilities of line at an architectural scale, and brings attention to the multiple layers of visual experience. Cinto often depicts the landscape in spare yet florid compositions that invoke the sublime and emphasize turbulence in seascapes, rainstorms, and blustery skies. She is frequently commissioned to create large-scale, site-specific works in which she drapes spaces in wide swaths of lush, blue-tinted drawings, pushing the limits of the medium. In these spiraling, expansive works, Cinto offers the rigors of travel across challenging terrain as a metaphor for human ambition.

​Although Cinto is less known for her photographic work, the medium allows her to explore many of the themes that inform her environmental works, namely, the play between flatness and depth, transparency and opacity, and drawing and three-dimensional space. In Untitled, a ghostly bluish-green hand floats within the frame against an indeterminate background. The glass separating the viewer from the image has been streaked and scored by longitudinal etching marks, as if the glass had been shattered, rupturing the serenity of the milky composition. The hand’s tensely curled and truncated fingers, coupled with the scarred glass that encases it, lend the work an eerie, disquieting air.

​This multimedia work by Cinto builds on the ICA/Boston’s growing collection of late twentieth-century photography and artworks that dissolve the divide between photography, sculpture, and painting, such as those by Gilbert and George, Leslie Hewitt, and Annette Lemieux. It also adds to the ICA’s burgeoning collection of Latin American art.

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Performance and photography are fused in Cindy Sherman’s now-signature “self-portraits.” Since the mid-1970s, she has photographed herself in theatrically staged environments, transforming her appearance with cosmetics, costumes, and wigs. After finishing the black-and-white Untitled Film Stills in 1980, Sherman turned to color, focusing her work as actor/director/photographer on issues of women and celebrity, fashion photography, and advertising. She and cohorts Jack Goldstein, Sherrie Levine, and Robert Longo came to be known as the “Pictures Generation” on account of their critical appropriation of images from consumer and media culture.

While the subjects in the Untitled Film Stills are generic types, in Untitled Sherman mimics a specific actress: Marilyn Monroe. Sherman’s recreation of the American idol relies on many small details—from the blond hair and red lipstick to the hairline and parted lips. Seated on the floor against a backdrop (the rolled bottom of which is visible), the female figure is dressed in rustic clothing: a tan button-down shirt, blue pants, and leather booties. Though no corresponding photograph of Monroe has been identified, the reference is so persuasive that Sherman’s identity becomes subsumed by Monroe’s, an effect that distinguishes the image from the wholly invented, “simulacral” (art historian Rosalind Krauss’s term) stills of the Untitled Film Stills. Sherman thereby expands and complicates the possibilities that portraiture offers in her exploration of the mutability of identity. As the artist describes her own experience: “I feel I’m anonymous in my work. When I look at the pictures, I never see myself; they aren’t self-portraits. Sometimes I disappear.”

The addition of Untitled to the ICA/Boston’s collection of prints from Sherman’s early Untitled Film Stills shows where the artist would next go in her work. It also enhances the ICA’s holdings of work by contemporary photographers, such as Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Rineke Dijkstra, and Nan Goldin, whose works likewise interrogate the staged portrait.

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Cindy Sherman is known for fusing performance and photography in identity-morphing “self-portraits.” Since the mid-1970s, she has photographed herself as various female character types in staged environments, transforming her appearance with costumes, makeup, and wigs. The sixty-nine black-and-white images in Untitled Film Stills construct and reiterate stereotypes of postwar femininity, and were Sherman’s seminal foray into her now-signature photographic practice. She began the series in 1977, shortly after moving to New York City, and continued it until, as she says, she “ran out of clichés” in 1980. Sherman and her New York cohort in the 1980s, including Jack Goldstein, Sherrie Levine, and Robert Longo, came to be known as the “Pictures Generation” on account of their critical appropriation of images from consumer and media culture.

Untitled Film Still #63 depicts a young woman on the stairs of a building, wearing a dress, trench coat, and heavy boots. Stopped in her ascent, she turns back, gazing over her left shoulder toward the camera. Something has caught her attention and she turns to look at it, bringing her hand to her chin to hold back her hair. Her expression conveys a sense of concentration or perhaps consternation at what she sees. As in many of the Untitled Film Stills, because the image evokes the familiar narrative tropes of Hollywood, the viewer is encouraged to fill in the next frame and imaginatively complete the narrative.

The ICA/Boston possesses a number of Sherman’s photographs, including an expanding set of prints from the Untitled Film Stills series. Untitled Film Still #63 enhances the ICA’s holdings of work by important contemporary photographers, such as Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Rineke Dijkstra, and Nan Goldin, whose works likewise generate questions about the ambiguities of the staged photograph.

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The series Untitled Film Stills, 1977–80, marks Cindy Sherman’s seminal foray into her now-signature photographic practice. Reimagining the genre of portraiture, she plays the roles of both actor and director, transforming her persona with simple props and costumes, makeup, and wigs to mimic filmic stereotypes of postwar femininity. Though invented, the scenes in Untitled Film Stills appear disarmingly familiar. After producing sixty-nine black-and-white photographs, Sherman “ran out of clichés,” and ended the series. In New York City in the 1980s, she and her cohort, including Jack Goldstein, Sherrie Levine, and Robert Longo, formed what has been called the “Pictures Generation,” artists who critically appropriated images from consumer and media culture.

Untitled Film Still #54 portrays a woman walking down a street at night toward the viewer, pulling the collar of her trench-coat to her neck. Resembling Marilyn Monroe in her facial features and blond bouffant, the figure is starkly lit by the flash of a camera in the surrounding darkness. Her pose is one of self-concealment and protection, as if she were being accosted on a nighttime walk by a paparazzo. As in many of the Untitled Film Stills, the evocation of Hollywood movies encourages the viewer to anticipate the storyline’s possible outcomes.

The ICA/Boston possesses a number of Sherman’s photographs, including an expanding set of examples from the Untitled Film Stills series. Untitled Film Still #54 enhances the ICA’s holdings of work by the important contemporary photographers, including Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Rineke Dijkstra, and Nan Goldin, who are also interested in the staged mise-en-scène.

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