Photographer Lori Grinker Documents Life “Afterwar”

The next time you visit NMWA, come to the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center to see new books on women in the arts, as well as reference books, artists’ books, and more.

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Cover image of Afterwar: Veterans from a World in Conflict by Lori Grinker

Afterwar: Veterans from a World in Conflict
Lori Grinker
(de.MO Design Limited, 2004)

On November 11, many nations around the world will observe Armistice Day, or Veteran’s Day, a holiday first created in 1919 to commemorate the end of World War I—known in its day as “the war to end all wars.”

As Veteran’s Day approaches, 97 years since its first observance, it is sobering to reflect on the many conflicts that continue around the world. Photographer Lori Grinker employs portrait photography and first-person testimony to chronicle the lasting traumas experienced by male and female soldiers in her poignant book Afterwar: Veterans from a World in Conflict.

Grinker highlights veterans from both sides of wars in the 20th and 21st centuries, spanning more than 30 countries and five continents. Within 23 sections—one section for each conflict—Grinker assembles her subjects in an ideologically-alternating arrangement. In a chapter on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, only one page separates the portrait of a Intifada fighter from that of an Israel Defense Forces veteran. The effect is startling and powerful. Ideologies become irrelevant. Grinker, who received her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, manages to evoke something different and unique with each portrait, capturing post-war trauma in many enigmatic iterations.

Arafat Jacoub, Intifada (Palestine), participated 1989–1990 (left) and Yossi Arditi, Israeli Defense Army, served 1971–1988 (right); All photos: Lori Grinker

Arafat Jacoub, Intifada (Palestine), participated 1989–1990 (left) and Yossi Arditi, Israeli Defense Army, served 1971–1988 (right); All photos: Lori Grinker

Grinker writes that her works “originate from the personal but…speak to our commonalities.” She says, “ultimately, my work is about the ephemeral transcendence of everyday experience.” Perhaps the real power of this book is its suggestion that human beings have more that unites than divides them. Viewed in this way, Grinker’s powerful and elegiac perspective elevates Afterwar from journalistic account to artistic testimony.

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Penny Kettlewell, U.S. Army (Vietnam conflict), served 1966–1971; Photo: Lori Grinker

All are welcome to view this book in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. If you’re touring the museum’s exhibitions, the library is open to the public and makes a great starting point on the fourth floor. In addition to beautiful books and comfortable chairs, library visitors enjoy interesting exhibitions that feature archival manuscripts, personal papers by women artists, rare books, and artists’ books. Reference Desk staff members are always happy to answer questions and offer assistance. Open Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–12 p.m. and 1–5 p.m.

—Lydia Hejka is the fall 2016 intern in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Justine Kurland

Impress your friends with five fast facts about American photographer Justine Kurland (b. 1969), whose work is on view in NMWA’s third-floor galleries.

Justine Kurland (b. 1969)

1. The Runaways

After “imagining a story, a film…that I wanted to be real,” Kurland began photographing young girls in spectacular landscapes. While creating her narrative of a teenage runaway, she was particularly interested in photographing within small, fringe areas of wilderness that remained between suburban and urban areas.

Justine Kurland, Raft Expedition, 2001; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; © Justine Kurland, courtesy Mitchell-Innes + Nash

Justine Kurland, Raft Expedition, 2001; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; © Justine Kurland, courtesy Mitchell-Innes + Nash

2. Girls in Uniform

Kurland continued working with adolescent girls while completing an artist residency in New Zealand.

She learned that students there wore uniforms whether they were in public or private school, and had the girls wear them in her photographs.

3. On the Open Road 

Eschewing the traditional studio, Kurland travels the country to create her images. Whether on her own or with her son, she packs up her camera equipment, steps into her van (which has a bed in the back), and lives on the road for several months.

4. Mama Babies

When exhibiting her mother and child images, Kurland borrowed the title “Of Woman Born,” from the 1978 essay on motherhood by the feminist poet Adrienne Rich. For Kurland, the series was a way for her to reimagine the idea of motherhood.

5. Artistic Beginnings

At a young age, Kurland cut out Victorian artist Arthur Rackham’s illustration, Always Plenty to Eat or Drink, from a book. The fantastical artwork resonated with Kurland. Even today, Kurland keeps the page with her. She feels that the work represents her world view.

—Ashley Harris is assistant educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Hellen van Meene

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Hellen van Meene (b. 1972), whose work is on view in NMWA’s third-floor galleries.

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Hellen van Meene, Untitled (151), 2002; Chromogenic color print, 15 3/8 in. x 15 3/8 in.; Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC

1. Dutch Sensibilities

Van Meene’s depictions of spare domestic interiors and her dramatic use of light are often compared with the compositions of 17th-century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. She says, “I never work…with a flash…or other artificial light and it brings me to use the same kind of ‘ingredients’ as a painter.”

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Hellen van Meene, Untitled (30), 1998; Chromogenic color print, 11 3/4 in. x 11 3/4 in.; Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC

2. Not Snap Happy 

“What I do is really like a painter working on a painting—looking, making decisions,” says van Meene.

Her process includes spending considerable time observing and getting to know her models before photographing them. “This approach is far from just taking out your camera and snapping, snapping, snapping away.”

3. Notable Alums

From 1992 to 1996, van Meene studied photography at Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam. Rineke Dijkstra (b. 1959), fellow Dutch photographer and NMWA artist, studied there ten years prior.

Both artists are known for their tender photographs of adolescent girls that reveal the sometimes precious—and sometimes awkward—moments of puberty.

Hellen van Meene, Untitled (75b), 1999; Chromogenic color print, 15 1/4 in. x 15 1/4 in.; Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC

Hellen van Meene, Untitled (75b), 1999; Chromogenic color print, 15 1/4 in. x 15 1/4 in.; Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC

4. Animal Whisperer

The artist’s recent works feature poignant portraits of animals that seem to capture her sitters’ souls and personalities, sharing affinities with the paintings of French animalier artist Rosa Bonheur (1822–1899).

5. Homegirls

Lorena Kloosterboer, contemporary trompe-l’œil and photorealistic painter, and Anna Louisa Geertruida Bosboom-Toussaint, 19th-century novelist, were born in Hellen van Meene’s hometown of Alkmaar, the Netherlands.

—Adrienne L. Gayoso is associate educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Staging Strange: Angela Strassheim’s Photographs

Some viewers might say Angela Strassheim seems obsessed with death—her eerie photographs were once described as “CSI meets Billy Graham.” The artist’s uncomfortable upbringing as a born-again Christian and her background in forensic photography imbue her images of crime scenes, domestic activities, and oddly posed figures with an unsettling feeling.

Strassheim’s work references religion, art history, and the experience of growing up in the American Midwest. Three photographs from her “Left Behind” series (2004) and two from “Pause” (2006)—currently on view in NMWA’s third-floor galleries—are partly inspired by her family and childhood memories.

Histories Repeating

Agnela Strassheim

Installation view of Angela Strassheim’s Untitled (Savannah’s Birthday Party) at NMWA

Combining art-historical and biblical references, Untitled (Savannah’s Birthday Party) (2006) echoes depictions of the Last Supper. Strassheim transposes this scene to a suburban dining room filled with young girls—merging her memories with an iconic artistic and religious tableau. The work’s central figure meets the viewer’s gaze, creating an unsettling feeling of being watched.

Although her photographs are meticulously staged, Strassheim says that they ring “true” by representing a past feeling or memory. The artist based Untitled (Isabel at the Window) (2004) on an incident from her adolescence. The photograph’s perspective, strange crime-scene quality, and placement of the nude girl in a room alongside works of art create a sense of voyeurism and transgression. The ambiguity of Isabel’s position—it is not clear whether or not she knows she is being watched—adds to the intrigue of this investigation of power, gender, and vision.

Power and Control

Untitled (Horses) (2004) from “Left Behind” incorporates dread and humor in a playful image. The series’ title refers to the Christian concept of the apocalypse: that true believers will be raptured into heaven while the unsaved will remain on Earth for a period of chaos and violence. In the photograph, toy horses (a reference to the apocalypse) seem to flee from a young girl who is bathed in light, wearing costume wings, and reading a small Bible. To her right, a boy sleeps peacefully, while another child lurks underneath the bed to her left.

Angela Strassheim, Untitled (Horses), 2004; Edition 1/8, Chromogenic color print, 30 x 40 in.; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC

Angela Strassheim, Untitled (Horses), 2004; Edition 1/8, Chromogenic color print, 30 x 40 in.; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC

Strassheim’s restaging of the apocalypse as a children’s game and portrayal of a young girl (a surrogate for the artist’s childhood self) as a figure of authority subverts a belief that weighed heavily on Strassheim for the first 18 years of her life. Overall, the compulsively detailed staging and sense of static perfection in these photographs suggests an intense desire for control.

Horses exemplifies Strassheim’s artistic style. Polished, unsettling, and ambiguous, this photograph conjures a myriad of associations and emotions. The sense of terror lurking beneath everyday domesticity, the implication of violence disturbingly depicted through children’s bodies, and the unsettling sense of being watched make her photographs disquieting but endlessly engaging.

—Kait Gilioli is the summer 2016 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

She Who Tells a Story: Boushra Almutawakel

In Arabic, the word rawiya means “she who tells a story.” Each artist in in NMWA’s summer exhibition She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World offers a vision of the world she has witnessed.

A NMWA visitor studies Boushra Almutawakel’s Untitled from The Hijab series

A NMWA visitor studies Boushra Almutawakel’s Untitled from “The Hijab” series (2001)

Boushra Almutawakel

(b. 1969, Sana’a, Yemen; lives Sana’a and Paris)

Yemen’s first professional female photographer, Boushra Almutawakel, gained international recognition for using the veil to challenge social trends and explore the complexities of public appearance. Almutawakel says, “I want to be careful not to fuel the stereotypical, widespread negative images most commonly portrayed about the hijab/veil in the Western media.”

In Her Own Words

“I wanted to explore the many faces and facets of the veil based on my own personal experiences and observations: the convenience, freedom, strength, the power, liberation, limitations, danger, humor, irony, the variety, cultural, social, and religious aspects, the beauty, mystery…”—Boushra Almutawakel

“A lot of people think that covered women are oppressed, backwards and uneducated. That is far from the truth. But at the same time I can’t hear very well if I am veiled and I can’t see the lips of women wearing the niqab. The biggest problem I have is with children being covered—there is nothing Islamic about that. I prefer our traditional veils which are colourful and more open.”—Boushra Almutawakel, interview in The Economist

What’s On View?

Ten photographs by Almutawakel are on view in She Who Tells a Story, including nine that comprise her “Mother, Daughter, Doll” series (2010). These staged portraits portray a young girl holding a doll and sitting on her mother’s lap. In each successive photograph, the figures’ smiles fade and their clothing darkens, covering more and more skin. The final photograph shows a black backdrop and an empty pedestal––the mother, daughter, and doll have vanished.

Boushra Almutawakel, “Mother, Daughter, Doll” series, 2010; Pigment prints, nine photographs, each 24 x 16 in.; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Museum purchase with funds donated by Richard and Lucille Spagnuolo, 2013.556–564; Photograph © 2015 MFA Boston

Boushra Almutawakel, “Mother, Daughter, Doll” series, 2010; Pigment prints, nine photographs, each 24 x 16 in.; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Museum purchase with funds donated by Richard and Lucille Spagnuolo, 2013.556–564; Photograph © 2015 MFA Boston

Almutawakel and her eldest daughter posed for the portraits after the Yemeni women who agreed to be photographed realized the work would be exhibited and declined. The artist said, “I thought, you know, if I’m asking them to take a risk and to be photographed, I said why don’t I put myself to the test and put myself in front of the camera.” The outfits in the first three images are clothes worn and owned by the artist herself, while the others belonged to family members and friends.

Almutawakel says, “I’m not against the hijab—I’m not even against the veil—but it has become a bit excessive in the covering.” Rather than denounce the headscarf (hijab), these portraits protest the more extensive, all-black niqab. Almutawakel’s visual commentary challenges the spread in Yemen of religious extremism, which calls for public concealment of women’s and girls’ bodies.

Listen to an audio recording of the artist discussing her work here. Visit the museum and explore She Who Tells a Story, on view through July 31, 2016.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

She Who Tells a Story: Jananne Al-Ani

In Arabic, the word rawiya means “she who tells a story.” Each artist in NMWA’s summer exhibition She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World offers a vision of the world she has witnessed.

Janane Al-Ani’s work on view in She Who Tells a Story

Jananne Al-Ani’s work on view in She Who Tells a Story

Jananne Al-Ani

(b. 1966, Kirkuk, Iraq; lives London)

Jananne Al-Ani is a photographer and video artist whose work has explored representation and conspicuous absence of the human body. Earlier in her career, she created work that depicted veiled women, examining stereotypes of Orientalism and cultural identity. More recently, Al-Ani has focused on landscapes, using aerial video and photography to show ambiguous sites with traces of inhabitation or seeming abandonment.

In Her Own Words

“The media coverage of the 1991 Gulf War, which focused on aerial and satellite images of a depopulated, barren landscape, had a major impact on my work. What followed was a reassessment on my part of the work of Orientalist painters and the way in which fantasies about the body and the landscape of the Middle East were constructed in their works. I began to see the body itself as a contested territory and during the 90s produced a series of works that attempted to counter the European obsession with uncovering and exposing the bodies of veiled women. More recently, with the Aesthetics of Disappearance project, I’ve attempted to re-occupy that space so, while the presence of the body is implied rather than explicit, the traces of human activity in the landscape are clear to see.”—Jananne Al-Ani, interview with Nat Muller in Ibraaz

What’s On View?

Jananne Al-Ani, Aerial I, production still from the film Shadow Sites II, 2011; Chromogenic print, 72 x 91 in.; Courtesy of the artist and Abraaj Capital Art Prize 2011; © Jananne Al-Ani

Jananne Al-Ani, Aerial I, production still from the film Shadow Sites II, 2011; Chromogenic print, 72 x 91 in.; Courtesy of the artist and Abraaj Capital Art Prize 2011; © Jananne Al-Ani

Al-Ani’s photograph Aerial I is a still image from her film Shadow Sites II, which in turn is part of her project The Aesthetics of Disappearance: A Land Without People. She explains, “The actual term ‘shadow site’ is borrowed from the field of aerial archaeology and refers to the practice of surveying landscapes from the air at dawn or dusk when the raking light serves to reveal low lying features on the ground—details that would otherwise remain invisible.”

She was inspired by Edward Steichen’s WWI reconnaissance photography, which she saw as “strikingly beautiful images of landscapes obliterated by shelling and criss-crossed by trenches, but abstracted to such a degree as to have become exquisite and minimal works of art.”

For this work, which depicts southern Jordan, she emphasizes the image’s ambiguity. Al-Ani says, “My guiding preoccupation was with the ways that the evidence of atrocity and genocide haunts the often beautiful landscapes into which the bodies of victims disappear.”

Visit the museum and explore She Who Tells a Story, on view through July 31, 2016.

—Elizabeth Lynch is the editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.