Exhibition Preview: Thursday 26 October 6-8.30pm
Belfast Exposed is pleased to present Catharsis - a new group exhibition which brings together three projects by contemporary photographers who use portraiture in innovative ways to explore and come to terms with complex family or personal histories. Employing different strategies, each artist uses photography as a means to unravel or respond to a repressed narrative around personal identity. Through the process of creative investigation they open a broader dialogue around the constraints that societal norms can impose upon the freedom of individual expression.
Amak Mahmoodian is an Iranian photographer, born the year after the revolution in 1979. She uses the official portraits taken for the Iranian birth certificate - the Shenasmenah - to question the representation of women in her home country. A Shenasmenah is valid for life, but the photograph must be updated in keeping with standards imposed by the government. For a woman, the taking of this photograph is a personally charged affair - her hair must be covered, and her face free of excessive make-up. If the woman’s appearance is not deemed officially ‘correct’, the photograph will be rejected.
By collecting and creating an archive of Shenasmenah portraits and fingerprints, and by taking the time to get to know each of her subjects, Mahmoodian seeks to draw attention to the individual personalities of the women behind their public-facing image.
Through her project, Ken. To Be Destroyed, Sara Davidmann also explores the tensions between an ‘acceptable’ public-facing image and a private personal identity. Sara Davidmann and her siblings inherited an archive of letters and photographs belonging to her uncle and aunt, Ken and Hazel Houston, stored in a drawer by their mother Audrey Davidmann. The letters chronicled struggles in the relationship between Ken and Hazel, as it had emerged soon after they were married that Ken was transgender. In the context of a British marriage in the 1950s, this inevitably profoundly affected both their own relationship and their relationships with the people around them. In an eventual agreement between the couple, Ken lived publicly as a man but in the privacy of their home he lived as a woman. In response to the letters and family photographs, Sara Davidmann has produced a new set of photographs using analogue, alternative and digital processes. By working upon and reworking these found images, Davidmann seeks to release Ken publicly as the woman that he wished to be in his lifetime.
After many years of being haunted by the death of her father Moises, Mariela Sancari employed a unique strategy to help her understand her loss. Moises died when Mariela and her twin sister were 14 years old. They were not allowed to see his body, and they never understood if this was because he had committed suicide, or whether it was due to Jewish customs. For years afterward the girls struggled to gain closure on their grieving process - and started to invent imaginary scenarios for themselves where they might encounter their father still alive. Using photography as catharsis, Mariela Sancari placed an advert with a photograph of her father and called for men of the same age (now in their seventies) to sit for a portrait. By interacting with these strangers, who she invited to temporarily assume the identity of her father, she allowed herself to explore repressed questions about her father’s life and the mental illness that led him to suicide.
Observations is generously supported by Arts Council Northern Ireland and Belfast City Council.