Evidence is a work that uses the disappearance of the artist’s father-in-law, Jaballa Matar—a political dissident who was kidnapped in Cairo in 1990, reportedly by the Egyptian secret police, and handed over to the Libyan regime—as an anchor for an exploration of the abuse of political human rights activists in the form of abduction, torture, and suspicious deaths. Though thematically heavy, Evidence also includes the artist’s diary entries, which make the work both private and metaphorical. It conveys the family’s everyday pain as it is sharpened by snippets of news images and the empty seat at the dining table.
For six years, Diana Matar scanned through places—mainly in Egypt and Italy, where anti-Gaddafi dissidents were active—in search of traces of her father-in-law. Though her work is about Jaballa Matar, he is nowhere to be found in any of her photographs. Other than the letters he sent, barely any traces of his existence remain. For this reason, the question of how to photographically convey an invisible object or absence became the premise of Diana Matar’s work. She reflects on the object that suspends itself in the void between existence and absence, the object that likens itself to the silence between two musical notes.
In a work where the human subject is removed, the streets of Italy or the prison cells where cruelty has taken place are not ordinary places. These places have now become witnesses to all that has transpired—they are now places of memory. The faintest whiff of wind or the streak of moonlight that illuminates the tree branches are not the same as the breeze or moonlight that existed before. By going beyond the surface of the incident, Diana Matar expands, both profoundly and accurately, the world that can be contained in a photograph.
Sujong Song, Co-Founder and Co-Director, Seoul Lunar Photo Festival, South Korea
Diana Matar is an artist working in photography, testimony, and archives. Her bodies of work investigate issues of history, memory, and state-sponsored violence. Matar was born in the United States and has lived in the United Kingdom since 1999. She is a graduate of the Royal College of Art, London, earning a M.A. in 2008. Matar has been a recipient of the Deutsche Bank’s Pyramid Award for Fine Art, a grant from the Mother Jones International Fund for Documentary Photography, and two Individual Artist grants from the Arts Council England. She was nominated for the Prix Pictet in 2010 and again in 2015.
Matar’s monograph Evidence (Amsterdam: Schilt Publishing, 2014) earned a place on the “best books of the year” lists of The New Yorker, The Telegraph, and the Independent. Works from Evidence were exhibited at the Tate Modern, London, 2014–2015; Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany, 2015; Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden, Germany, 2015; and Paris Photo, 2014.
Recent exhibitions of Evidence have been held at Goeun Museum of Photography, South Korea; FotoFest 2016 Biennial, Houston; Biennale des photographes du monde arabe contemporain, Maison européenne de la photographie and Institut du monde arabe, Paris; and Paris Photo; with solo shows at Rick Wester Fine Art, New York, in 2015 and at Purdy Hicks Gallery, London, in 2016.
Her work is in the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Museum of Contemporary Photography Chicago; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, California; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The Deutsche Bank Collection; George Eastman House, Rochester, New York; Harry Ransom Center, Austin, Texas; Bedford Museum, Virginia; The Charles Dee Mitchell Collection, Dallas; and Michigan State University, East Lansing.
The artist has exhibited other work in the United Kingdom at Saatchi Gallery, London; The Collection Museum, Lincoln; Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery; Q Arts Gallery, Derby; Peterborough Museum and Art Gallery; Light House Gallery Media Centre, Wolverhampton; and The Houses of Parliament, London. Her work has also appeared at the National Museum of Singapore; Gallery of Photography, Dublin; and Fotografie Forum Frankfurt, Germany