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Mapping Sitting: On Portraiture and Photography opens August 22


Installation by Walid Raad and Akram Zaatari, curated from the archives of the Arab Image Foundation in Beirut, Lebanon, offers a look into the faces of the historic and contemporary Middle East.


PORTLAND, OR (July 18, 2005) - Mapping Sitting: On Portraiture and Photography, a project by New York and Beirut-based artists and curators Walid Raad and Akram Zaatari, will be on view at Reed College's Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery from August 22 to September 30, 2005. The exhibition is free and open to the public. (Hours and location below.)

Walid Raad Lecture
Walid Raad will deliver a lecture entitled "The Loudest Muttering is Over: Documents from the Atlas Group Archive" at 7 p.m. on Friday, September 23, in Vollum Lecture Hall on the Reed College campus. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Mapping Sitting
In Mapping Sitting Raad and Zaatari reveal how Arab portrait photography not only pictured individuals and groups, but also functioned as commodity, luxury item, and adornment. Their installations feature diverse photographs from the Arab Image Foundation--an archive in Beirut housing more than 70,000 images taken by professional and amateur photographers from the late 19th century to the present. Collectively, the photographs convey pluralistic and dynamic Middle Eastern communities through the lenses of indigenous photographers--images far different from photos of the region circulating widely today in the press.

"Mapping Sitting presents an opportunity to examine both historical and contemporary material within a given artistic genre," says Stephanie Snyder, director of the Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery. "The portrait photos in Mapping Sitting allow us to examine the interplay between cultural impulses and adopted conventions."

Mapping Sitting presents four distinct practices: studio passport photography; institutional group portrait photography; the street tradition of "photo-surprise"; and portraits by itinerant photographers. These four forms are examined through the works of Tripoli-based Armenian photographer Antranik Anouchian (1908-1991); Lebanese photographer Hashem el Madani (born 1930); various group portrait photographers who were active in Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq between 1880 and 1960; and early 1950s street "photo-surprise" images by Setrak Albarian and Sarkis Restikian of the Photo Jack Studio in Tripoli, Lebanon. Addressing the proliferation of photographic portrait industries in the Arab world, the exhibition not only raises questions about portrait photography in the Middle East, but also about portraiture, photography, and visual culture in general.

The history of photography in the Arab world is not well documented. Introduced in the Middle East by colonial occupiers in the mid-19th century, photography was, at first, dominated by Western practitioners who focused primarily on antiquities, regional landscape, and exotic traditions. Local photographic production flourished after Yessai Garabedian, the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, held the first photography workshop in the region in the 1860s. In the years that followed, photographic production continued to expand, especially as Armenian exiles, many of whom had been trained as photographers, fled Turkey for Islamic countries. With the arrival of Kodak box cameras in the 1880s and 1890s, the appetite for photographic images increased.

As photography spread throughout Middle Eastern culture, modernization was transforming the region. The social, political, and economic lives of the emerging nation-states gave rise to nationalist liberation movements along with evolving awareness of geography and identity. Modern building methods and urban planning were implemented, labor and women's movements developed, and new literary and artistic forms focused on identity as the central issue in developing socio-political realities.

Contrary to Western images of the Arab world, which often depicted marginalized or dehumanized subjects, photographs by indigenous Middle Eastern residents captured the quotidian lives of these changing communities. Concentrating on commercial photography, Mapping Sitting's creators Raad and Zaatari--artists who also function in this instance as curators--pose a number of questions: What historical, aesthetic, philosophical, and cultural conceptions of photography are repeated and/or questioned in these images? What can we learn about notions of identity from these portraits? Keeping in mind the peculiar conditions of production, distribution, and consumption of the images, Mapping Sitting also investigates how these photographic practices reveal characteristics of nascent national identities.

Snyder believes that, as an institution, the Arab Image Foundation has done a uniquely outstanding job of archiving the visual history of the region, rescuing masses of negatives and prints from neglect and destruction.

"We are particularly excited to have Mapping Sitting and Mona Hatoum exhibiting in the same semester, as both exhibitions address the collision of cultures, and the authenticity of individual experience in the face of geographic dislocation and cultural estrangement," Snyder noted. "Faculty in the art history and studio art departments will be teaching courses related to cultural diaspora, material culture, and explorations of public and private space--not to mention the exhibition's importance as a body of photographic practice. Mapping Sitting is an excellent opportunity for teaching across disciplines."

mapping sitting image

Admission to the Cooley Gallery and its exhibitions is always free and open to the public. The Cooley Gallery is open every day except Monday from noon to 5 p.m. The gallery is in Reed College's Hauser Memorial Library at 3203 SE Woodstock Boulevard. Parking is available nearby in the college's East Parking Lot, and the #19 bus stops on Woodstock at the campus entrance near the library. Special group tours can be arranged. For information, please visit http://web.reed.edu/gallery or call the gallery information line at 503/777-7790.

For more information or to receive images from the exhibition, please contact Beth Sorensen, office of public affairs, at 503/777-7574 or at beth.sorensen@reed.edu.