The Intricately Decorative Yet Deeply Emotional Work of Carolle Benitah
Benitah is best known for her three-part series “Photo-Souvenirs,” which is divided into parts that correspond with three stages of life: “Enfance,” “Adolescence,” and “Adulte”—which she completed recently. She frequently embellishes her vintage family snapshots with thread, injecting her works with physical and emotional dimension. The artist admits that “the photos reawakened an anguish of something both familiar and totally unknown … I decided to explore the memories of my childhood to help me understand who I am and to define my current identity.”
In Sur la canape/on the sofa (2009), a calm scene of three small children seated on a sofa is overwhelmed by a wild mane of black thread that grows from the first girl’s head, flows across the surface—effectively obscuring the two other children—and trailing off the far edge of the photograph. Chez le photographe / at the photographer (2009) presents a happy family portrait of Benitah and her siblings. She has nearly covered her older brother’s face with red thread dots, except for his mouth and chin, while leaving herself and her sisters uncovered but with their mouths clearly sewn shut with the same red thread. The formal relationships created by these details echo the tense social and gender relationships of Benitah’s childhood and reflect the cultural expectations for young women in the 1960’s and ‘70s.
Evidenced by the way figures that have been cut out of some images, Benitah often focuses on problems of alienation and displacement. In a la plage / at the beach (2009), two figures have been excised from a group of six children, both placed horizontally in the margin under the border of the picture. Red thread conceals a third. In la chute / the fall (2009), a young girl appears to fall off the picture’s surface, barely tethered to her mother by a single red string.
Similar to the Iranian printmaker and filmmaker