On Either Side of the Window: Portraits During COVID-19
It seems as if life was on hold this past year—for everyone. I am always straddling my two cultures and identities, as a Lebanese/Palestinian and as an American. It feels as if the news is always creating divisions, “them v/s us,” and now here we are a “we”: all in this together, in the same boat, with life at a standstill and reduced to the confinement of home. This virus is such an equalizer, making us all re-evaluate our shared humanity, our fragility, and our priorities.
“If the house of the world is dark,
Love will find a way to create windows.”
After a few days in isolation, and feeling a need for human interaction, I put a call out on Instagram asking people in the greater Boston area if they would agree to let me make their portrait through the window. It humbled me how many people were willing to be part of this, but also how important the human interaction we often took for granted, was—for both of us on either side of the window and of the camera. Despite the fact that we communicated across a physical barrier, we made a connection. The sense of being inside or outside was blurred. I am outside and looking in, but seeing the outside reflected onto the person in front of me. Depending on where I stood, we could even overlap, connecting us on many levels, metaphorically and personally despite the physical barrier between us.
I aimed to capture the intimacy, beauty, anxiety and rhythm of daily life during lockdown, where the home acts simultaneously as a sanctuary and a prison. As the weeks went by and the “new normal” settled in, the portraits started transforming with the window almost acting like a stage and people on the inside becoming active participants in the photo session, bringing their ideas and their performances to the interaction we were creating.
“On Either Side of the Window Portraits During COVID-19” is currently on display at the Cornell Fine Art Museum at Rollins. Click here to visit the museum site to see more images and take a virtual tour.
Copyright © 2021 Rania Matar
Rania Matar was born and raised in Lebanon and moved to the U.S. in 1984. Because she is a Lebanese-born American artist and mother, her cross-cultural experience and personal narrative inform her photography.
Matar’s work has been widely exhibited in museums worldwide, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Carnegie Museum of Art, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Cornell Fine Arts Museum, and more. It is part of the permanent collections of several museums, institutions, and private collections. A mid-career retrospective of her work was recently on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, and at the American University of Beirut Museum.
Matar received a 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship, a 2017 Mellon Foundation artist-in-residency grant, a 2011 Legacy Award at the Griffin Museum of Photography, and 2011 and 2007 Massachusetts Cultural Council artist fellowships. In 2008 she was a finalist for the Foster Award at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, with an accompanying solo exhibition.
She has published three books: L’Enfant-Femme, 2016; A Girl and Her Room, 2012; and Ordinary Lives, 2009.
She is currently working on her fourth book, SHE (2021), to be published by Radius Books.