Evidence and The Return: An intervention by Diana Matar and Hisham Matar, in the Albukhary Foundation Gallery of the Islamic World, British Museum.
The British Museum has invited photographer Diana Matar and writer Hisham Matar to exhibit objects relating to works they have made in response to the disappearance and search for Hisham's father, Jaballa Matar, a political opposition leader during the Qaddafi era in Libya. Diana published the critically acclaimed monograph Evidence in 2014, and Hisham the memoir The Return in 2017, which won numerous international prizes, including a Pulitzer Prize. The Museum recently acquired a limited edition of Evidence, which will be on view. For the intervention, the photographer and writer have each created an intimate installation that brings objects related to their books together with items from the Museum's collection. Many of these have never been exhibited before. The result is a rare example of two artists working in different genres, addressing the same history, and shedding light on broader themes of remembrance.
Diana has displayed coins minted by Libyan troops in revolt against Carthage from the 3rd Century BC. Linking three eras of Libyan history, she has placed the coins, struck with horses, next to an archival photograph in her book of Libyan resistance fighters charging Mussolini’s troops during the Italian occupation. And a note in her diary describing anti-Qaddafi protesters entering Benghazi during the Arab Spring. Other coins, struck with heads, sit next to haunting photographs she made of men disappeared by the regime pictured on commemorative posters. In her sketchbook, she writes, 'the camera is never enough. These boys, these men, can I ever do them justice?' Her sketchbooks, exhibited for the first time, offer powerful insights into what she was trying to achieve with her photographs: 'Can an image contain memory?' she asks. The notes, interspersed between proof sheets and drawings, are technical; '18 min exposure 9 pm'; philosophical - ideas from Goethe and Levinas; and deeply personal, 'Jaballa is still missing. We know nothing.'
Hisham chose for the display objects from the 3rd Century site of Cyrene, a place he visited as a boy with his father: fragile terracotta heads, a wing, and an arm. They are interspersed with a diary, his father's identity card, images of Hisham as a teenager, and delicate abstract drawings made while writing The Return. 'From the collection, I was drawn to pieces and fragments that are damaged or incomplete. I believe these have never been exhibited before. Bringing them to light in this context felt pertinent.' Also included is a SIM card that holds the memory of Hisham's many conversations calling for his father's whereabouts and that of other disappeared political prisoners. 'I have included sketches that I made to help me understand the perambulatory structure of The Return, and the complex architecture of specific paragraphs that contain multiple time frames.'