Stemming from the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960s and 70s, the idea that the political is personal is often bantered about. To prove it, a good majority of photography’s essential power would be left in the ether if it weren’t so. Diana Matar’s wrenching and extraordinary essay, Evidence, is a collection of photographs that scream for resolution but what remains is the search for its protagonist.
Her father-in-law, Jaballa Matar, a Libyan dissident who was a former diplomat and Libyan Army officer was kidnapped – “disappeared” – by the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and never seen by his family again. Evidence is a quest to make sense of the personal loss and broken past, to seek whatever redemption could be had against the torture and senseless cruelty of a dictatorship. It is also a masterful and extremely well crafted result of six years of travel, photographing and development. The book is a mixture of homage, journal, and historical document, encompassing not just Matar’s photographs but her writing, diary entries, reproductions of letters from Jaballa, copies of photographs found in the Libyan secret service archives and other related documents.
The exhibition features approximately 40 photographs and text panels fromEvidence. Matar’s photographs are metaphysical contradictions, based on an evaporated pursuit. She succeeds in creating an extended portrait through metonymic devices, photographing what is nonexistent. In her notes on the project, she wrote, Key to [the] work is the idea of trying to photograph something that is not there, an irony in photography where we so stubbornly rely on a subject. This preoccupation is born out of the belief that history’s traces are somehow imprinted on architecture, landscapes, even faces.
Matar spent six years documenting the places where Jaballa may have been imprisoned and where dissidents and other political prisoners were incarcerated, tortured and killed, thus creating a palpable presence from an agonizing absence. She finds the traces of violence in the cityscapes and landscapes of Libya and in Rome, where numerous exiled Libyan dissidents were assassinated. When Matar’s husband, an author, began writing novels critical of the regime, they too began living with the fear of possible reprisal.
Matar’s photographic strategy for Evidence incorporated three distinct approaches, covering the broad realm of her efforts and reflecting the constant flux of historical events: Disappearance, Evidence and Witness. Often photographing at night, buildings and structures are seen with a trained eye for the malice inflicted there. Her photographs are redolent with the traces of unknowable violence. She refers back to the work of German Romantic painters’ descriptions of space and the metaphors found there. In a talk given at the Tate Modern, London, for the exhibition Conflict, Time, Photography, where a selection from Evidence was included, she added, In places where horrible things have happened there is an air of horror about them…. It was the challenge of trying to photograph something that is communicated from a place – but that could not be seen – that so fascinated me as an artist. I was very interested in it – and in the seeming restriction that was presented to a visual artist working with a camera, working in a medium that is very much connected to time. With a camera the window of time is usually very short. As it turned out, Matar’s time to photograph in Libya was cut very short as the political unrest that followed the revolution in 2012 created an untenable atmosphere: she could no longer safely visit Libya. Ultimately, the project was defined by the limitations of the very forces that allowed her to create the work.
Evidence has been included in several exhibitions in the United Kingdom and Europe. This is her first exhibition in New York.
Evidence by Diana Matar
From September 12th to October 24th, 2015
Rick Wester Fine Art
526 West 26th Street
New York NY 10001
+1 (212) 255-5560