Rania Matar bridges cultures and perceptions through the art of photography at Xposure 2024

Download Resources
Arab-American photographer presents a compelling exploration of everyday moments that transcend cultural divides and challenge stereotypes at the global photography festival in Sharjah

Lebanese-American artist Rania Matar photographer gave a moving and thought-provoking talk ‘From Personal to Universal’ at the Xposure International Photography Festival (Xposure 2024), being held at Expo Centre Sharjah until March 5. Through her lens, Matar brought to life the everyday and the mundane, sharing personal stories that bridge the gap between cultures, especially in the wake of 9/11’s divisive “them vs us” rhetoric which took hold in the US.

Matar’s journey into photography was one of discovery and passion, as she found herself disturbed by the simplifications and stereotypes that followed the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Seeking to counteract this narrative, she delved into the lives of women and girls, particularly those who wear the hijab, portraying their personal moments and making them relatable to a wider audience. “Every single person has a story,” Matar said, revealing the depth and diversity behind each face and story, and this became the basis for her first book, Ordinary Lives. It emerged from a desire to show the shared humanity and experiences of women across different cultures. “For me, the hijab was a statement as well as fashion; it was resistance to so many things,” Matar said, highlighting the depth and diversity behind the veil.

Matar is a recipient of the 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship and a 2022 Leica Women Foto Project Award. She is shortlisted for the 2023 Oskar Barnack Award.

Her first project, photographing Palestinian refugee camps, laid the groundwork for Matar’s lifelong commitment to portraying the personal sides of those living in the Middle East. During her session, Matar shared insights into her approach, stating, "I always wanted the image to look at the forefront." This dedication to capturing the essence of her subjects translates into a powerful visual narrative that resonates with viewers across the globe.

Matar, who is also the mother of four, says the focus of her career is documenting the nuanced experiences of growing up as a woman and being a woman, regardless of background. And one of its most compelling aspects has been portraying their everyday lives, showing that beneath the surface, we all share the same dreams, fears and hopes. By capturing the evolving appearances and identities of young women or juxtaposing mothers and daughters in the same shot, she uncovers the layers of identity and connection that define us.

The photographer also shared a touching anecdote about photographing two women, a Muslim and a Jew who went on to become friends, while displaying their images during the talk. “I love pairing those two images, especially in the climate we’re in now. This Shia Muslim woman reached out to me on Instagram to be photographed. Then there was Natalie, a young Jewish woman in Western Massachusetts. I photographed her and realised I had a similar relationship with both of them. So, I connected with them and now they are friends on Instagram.”

Despite the many obstacles she has faced, from the Civil War in Lebanon, having to flee countries, challenging perceptions about Arabs in post 9/11 US, the global pandemic and more, Matar’s work continues to explore the richness of the human experience, demonstrating resilience and creativity in the face of adversity.

Share this page

Other News