The New York photographer’s new exhibition, I belong to this, celebrates family, community and the “invisible threads that hold us together”
New York photographer Justine Kurland has become known for her utopic, mystical snapshots of American life. Her images – which are typically staged – tend to be focussed on the country’s fringe communities; some of which are real, others imagined. Over the course of her nearly three-decade career, she has created evocative scenes of rural commune dwellers, nomadic train hoppers, and a forest-trekking community of nudist pilgrims. Her most famous work, Girl Pictures, depicts a group of plucky young women runaways as they break away from society to roam – freely and without threat – in the heart of the American wilderness.
For her latest project, she takes on a curatorial role, platforming 17 of her favourite women and non-binary artists. The resulting exhibition, titled I belong to this, explores similar themes to much of Kurland’s previous work, including communal rituals, the experience of marginalised identities, and our ever-changing perception of home. According to the photographer, the main focus of the show is on family and community: “what is felt rather than seen”, and the “invisible threads that hold us together”.
The exhibition contains over 70 varied pieces of work, ranging from staged studio portraits to glowing, chemically rendered light poems. Some of the pieces focus on more conventional readings of family, with contemplations on parenthood and the maternal bond – like Calafia Sanchez-Touzé’s uneasy, allegorical portraits of her mother and father, and Annie Wang’s 20-year documentation of her relationship with her son. Others offer a more abstract reading of the theme, like Jennifer Calivas, who performs her own burial, submerging herself in the earth, or Keli Safia Maksud, who eerily recovers the hymnal undertones of the Algerian national anthem.
“[These artists] consistently refuse an emblematic or fixed identity,” explains Kurland in the show’s accompanying statement. “Instead, they have squeezed, smeared, and repurposed their DNA into a family album without limit, resurrected ancestors, and activated psychic space in order to give shape to their experience.” The art and the photography featured, she adds, aims to counter toxic ideals and harmful power dynamics, forming a new, empathetic pact between camera operator, subject, and viewer: “These acts allow us to recognise ourselves through and among others.”
I belong to this is on view at London‘s Huxley-PArlour Gallery until October 16, 2021.