Constructing Identities: Stories We Thought We Knew

Christilla, Rabieh, Lebanon 2010

Rania Matar, Christilla, Rabieh, Lebanon, 2010. Courtesy of the artist and Carroll and Sons Gallery, Boston.

The images in She Who Tells a Story not only are made by women with roots in Iran and the Arab world, but are about the people, landscapes, and cultures of the region. Many of the photographers here explore questions of identity through an evolving and shifting set of narratives that must be understood as a response to Orientalism. Historically, “Orientalism” has referred to artistic or literary depictions by European or American artists and writers of the East, including Middle Eastern, North African, and Eastern cultures. In his pioneering study Orientalism (1978), the Palestinian-born scholar Edward Said argued that Orientalism aligns Western romanticized visions of the region with the goals of European and American colonialism and imperialism; it is a discourse of power, presenting the “Orient” as culturally inferior. Since the appearance of Said’s provocative study, questions surrounding imagery of Middle Eastern, North African, and Asian cultures have been vigorously reconsidered and debated. Regardless of the opinions expressed in these sometimes contentious conversations, Orientalism, and, more specifically, Orientalist painting, is indisputably fundamental to the region’s historical visual representation.[1]

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When Sally Dixon’s Office was a Bastion of the Experimental Film Scene


Sally Dixon in her office, c. 1970. Carnegie Museum of Art, Film and Video Department archive. Photograph: Robert Haller.

Sally Dixon’s office was, in a word, stunning. Back in the early 1970s, before the present-day museum of art building was constructed, Carnegie Institute was sorely in need of extra space. So when Dixon launched the museum’s film program in 1970, the attic space above the Carnegie Lecture Hall (now part of the Carnegie Library’s main branch in Oakland) was offered to her and she transformed it into an office. With large windows and a mishmash of scavenged furniture and knick-knacks—not to mention the beautiful letterpress posters on the walls, many of which we have in our archive—it became an important meeting place for filmmakers, curators, and scholars from near and far. This Pittsburgh Press article, dated February 8, 1970, offers a vivid description of Dixon’s office, with the reporter playfully referring to its decor as “Early Museum Basement.”

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Doomed to Pittsburgh: W. Eugene Smith in the City of Steel


W. Eugene Smith, Monongahela River from Mount Washington, 1955–1957. Carnegie Museum of Art, Gift of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Lorant Collection.

Eugene Smith arrived in Pittsburgh in March 1955, a man hellbent on salvation. He had recently resigned as a staff photographer at Life, protesting what he considered the magazine’s botched layout of his photo essay documenting  Nobel laureate Albert Schweitzer. Smith was 36 years old and one of America’s preeminent photojournalists. His work in the Pacific theater during World War II—along with subsequent essays chronicling a village in Franco’s Spain, a country doctor in Colorado, and an African American nurse-midwife in rural South Carolina—were landmarks in contemporary photography. His integrity and immaculate craftsmanship had earned respect tinged with wariness. Editors knew he could be as edgy as a junkyard dog.

Now he was adrift. In debt, drinking steadily, battered by a diet of Benzedrine and downers, Smith hit Pittsburgh desperate to salvage whatever remained of his career. His wife, Carmen, was back home in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, caring for their four children and supporting (often supported by) the family’s live-in housekeeper. Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, Smith’s mistress, Margery Lewis, had recently given unwelcome and illicit birth to the couple’s son. It was the proverbial dark time made darker by the death of Smith’s mother, Nettie, in February. A whirlwind of grief, vengeance, despair, and a kind of ravening idealism drove him into the City of Steel.

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On the Death of Chris Burden, Iconoclast and Art-World Agitator


Chris Burden during his performance piece ‘Shoot’ at F-Space Gallery in Santa Ana, California, 1971.

Chris Burden, the influential American performance, sculpture, and installation artist known for courting controversy with his work, died early Sunday morning at his home in Topanga Canyon, California, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times. The cause of death was malignant melanoma. Burden was 69.

The Boston-born artist rose to prominence in the early 1970s following a series of works focused on personal danger as artistic expression. In one of his earliest and most well-known performance pieces, Shoot (1971), Burden stood in front of a white wall at F-Space Gallery in Santa Ana, California, where he was then shot in the arm with a .22 caliber rifle at close range. Other “danger pieces” followed throughout the 1970s, including Five Day Locker Piece (1971), Match Piece (1972), Deadman (1972), B.C. Mexico (1973), Fire Roll (1973), TV Hijack (1972), Doomed (1975), and Honest Labor (1979).

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What We Learned about the Hidden Lives of Artworks


Michael Belman, objects conservator at CMOA, applies a treatment to a statue during Uncrated, May 2015. Photo: Bryan Conley.

As the exhibition Uncrated: The Hidden Lives of Artworks comes to a close today, it’s worth looking back at the work conducted by the team of registrars, conservators, preparators, and curators that made the exhibition possible. When Uncrated was first proposed in fall 2014, it was viewed as an opportunity to assess and examine artworks long stored in gallery E—a little-known space located deep in the Heinz Galleries that had been used as storage for nearly 15 years. But as the idea developed, it became apparent that this exhibition offered more than an opportunity to review an inventory of artworks: it could also afford visitors a unique yet fleeting window into the museum’s permanent collection.

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