Staging Identity: Performance and Irony in Contemporary Middle Eastern Photography
The photograph has a long tradition of fashioning identity and shaping one’s self-presentation to the world. In Staging Identity, Galerie Kashya Hildebrand focuses on artists from the Middle East who use photography’s performative aspects and ironic potential for the creation of identity in order to consider how each artist consciously utilizes them to stage a particular experience. The historical legacy of culture, society, and politics plays a role in the work of these artists – both those who live in the Middle East and those in the Diaspora. However, in this exhibition, we do not examine the general effects of these legacies on the artists’ work. Instead, we explore how the theatricality of the photographs creates a space where artifice is laid bare and directly confronts viewers and their expectations. The result is innovative, daring statements about authenticity and about the tensions between individual selves and their cultural context. The artists’ struggle to assert their individualism allows for the production of works that give us insights into the artists’ intimate worlds.
By concentrating on the staging of identity, the intention of this exhibition is to present a more nuanced and layered understanding of the forces bearing on the artists’ relationship to the Middle East. The staged, ironic, and performative aspects, which link all these works together, are compelling because of the way they enable a construction of realities that offers a safe way to critique regimes and discourses without making overt political statements. These constructions act as a neutral place to challenge stereotypes, defer truth, and imagine other realities. The theatrical artifice helps form interventions of the imagination as an effective ‘under-the-radar’ approach to deal with social critiques of the state.