A Tacit Inheritance
Elizabeth M. Claffey & Rania Matar
Throughout its relatively short history as a medium, photography has been credited with the power to evoke a sense of immediate intimacy and connection. This power is on full display in A Tacit Inheritance, with a collection of traditional and conceptual portraits by Elizabeth M. Claffey and Rania Matar. The photographs made by these two talented artists advance a layered celebration of connection by depicting cross-cultural and cross-generational themes of our shared humanity.
Elizabeth Claffey's series, Matrilinear, offers a poetic window into the layers of memory embedded in a series of object portraits that represent a collective thread weaving together past, present, and future. The stark black and white of these photographs invoke x-ray images that incisively reveal the underlying personal histories and memories literally woven into the fabric of each garment. "Women play many complex roles within the structures of kinship: daughter, sister, cousin, mother, aunt, grandmother; these roles can be fluid and at times overlap," says Claffey. She continues by observing that "Matrilinear aims to create space for the deep knowledge base that women can develop through interaction with home space and each other."
Rania Matar's project, Unspoken Conversations, is a series of meticulously crafted portraits that explore the formation of generations through womanhood at two seminal stages of life, adolescence and middle age, with both mother and daughter included in a single frame. The images reveal each subject's subtle glances, gestures, and emotions that convey simultaneously the personal and universal complexities of the mother and daughter relationship. "In this work," writes Matar, "I seek to focus on our essence, our physicality, our vulnerability, on growing up and growing old – the commonalities that make us human, to emphasize underlying similarities rather than apparent differences across cultures and to ultimately find beauty in our shared humanity."
The relationships on display here are unique and powerful. The subjects, represented before the lens in Matar's images and metaphorically in Claffey's, are the givers and caretakers of life, the original "originators" who quite literally carry humanity forward. Side-by-side, the photographs in A Tacit Inheritance might evoke the phrase Nature vs. Nurture, the classic debate about our existence that is as old as humanity itself. Where Matar's portraits could represent the Nature side, through the physical connection of mother and daughter, Claffey's images are the Nurture side with their deliberate curation and maintenance of generational memory. Rather than in opposition to each other, we should view these two bodies of work together as representing the nurturing nature of our shared humanity through inherited memory and connection.