Arts / Community

Dana Hall Art Gallery: A Girl and Her Room

The Dana Hall Art Gallery opened a new exhibit on the 15th of January that featured pictures from Rania Matarís work from her book, A Girl and Her Room, published in May 2012. The art contains revealing pictures of teenage girls in the most personal space they have: their bedrooms.

Matar had been shooting pictures of her daughters and their friends when she realized how intimate a room could be. As Matar explains, a bedroom is a girl’s “own little world.” The world may be tumultuous outside, she says, but inside a bedroom, where possessions and meaningful objects are kept, a girl can be herself. A self-made safe haven, a teenage girl’s bedroom is much more than a place to sleep. With trinkets from childhood next to a school award or makeup cabinet, it encompasses all phases of a life. Matar explains that as time progresses, and a girl changes, so does her room. Like all the experiences that reside inside the girl, all the objects in a bedroom, reveal a storyline of a girl’s life.

Matar recognized the potential of the bedroom as a metaphor of a girl’s life.  As she watched her own girls grow up, she noticed that they often escaped to their rooms, slamming their door and shutting out the world and its challenges. Similarly, the photographs in the gallery reveal much more than a girl and her room; in fact, they depict the passage from childhood to adulthood, and the challenges and experiences that go along with it.

While the exhibit only features nineteen photos, the book contains photographs of about 300 girls in their own bedrooms. Having been born and raised in Lebanon, Matar decided to add pictures from both Lebanon and the Boston area, where she currently resides, hoping to draw parallels in the viewer’s mind. To Matar, these are the “two worlds [she] is most familiar with.” While distinct differences can be noticed between the two environments, such as furniture or posters, Matar skillfully connects all the photos so they are one and the same. She became fascinated “with the issues [that all teenage] girls face, regardless of culture, religion, and background.” Although they may have completely different homes, all of them encounter the challenges that come with growing up.

Each girl was hand-selected by Matar for the “unique aura” about her. Matar admits to stopping girls on the street, adding that she can always “feel when it’s right.” Matar photographed Dana Hall student, Nezzy Riaz ’14, three years ago, when she was just thirteen. Looking back, Riaz relates to Matar’s observations: “[the bedroom] is a place that exploits who someone is, as it shows the girls’s habitat and what she chooses to surround herself with.” Riaz described the shoot as surprisingly relaxed: “she just came in and took my picture. There wasn’t any set up really.” Matar says it is important to take her time when framing the shot. She prefers to be as unobtrusive as possible, leaving lights and equipment at home. She needs to “disappear” to get a shot that really connects with the girl.

Matar did just that in all of her shots. Each girl looks at ease and at home in her bedroom. Some are wearing casual clothes, while some lounge in pajamas. Each room has a different style; some are messy, while others are immaculate. These photos aren’t meant to express the girl’s physical beauty or perfect bedroom. Instead, they are raw and realistic. With each picture, the girl adds a quote about herself and her room. The quote usually reflects the girl’s personality which in turn connects to the girl’s room, just as Matar wanted.

Inspired by Matar’s work, Mary Ann McQuillan, the photography teacher at Dana, decided to assign the same task to her photo students. She asked them to mimic Matar’s style, using their own room or a friend’s. McQuillan tried to make the students realize that “physical space is just as important as the person,” forcing the girls to analyze the environment they shot in. Emily Kelman ’14, a student in Photo II who took a photo of a childhood friend, realized “how much of ourselves reside in our rooms.” Kelman’s picture, along with a other students’ work, is also being shown in the gallery.

At an all-girl’s school like Dana Hall, Matar’s work is sure to resonate. Every girl can remember a time when all she wanted was to be was in her bedroom, or when her bedroom felt like it was the only space where she belonged. As McQuillan adds, a girl’s bedroom represents “freedom, creativity, and a safe place to be yourself.”
By Claire Quinn

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