I flew to Denver on September second to attend the opening reception of Laura Merage's exhibition: "Look at Yourself Thirty Years of Photographs" at the Mizel Art & Culture Center at the JCC. Disclosure: the artist is my sister. So for the sake of fairness, I promptly took off my sisterly hat and replaced it with a stiff, journalistic fedora before setting foot into the gallery. Yes, I promise I did.
Smack on the right wall as I entered, I was first accosted by the self portrait of the artist's shaven head, a tuft of hair remaining like so many thorns awaiting their turn to be sheared, reaching out into my chest to elicit a well of contradictory emotions.
Untitled Portrait 2007
My first reaction was to turn away from the photograph, push the storm of emotions down where they belong, back into a corner of some personal and historical archive that held painful images at bay--holocaust victims, ravages of cancer, prisoners grappling with their own secret demons. But the artist's brave in-the-face-you-better-acknowledge-me-stare imprisoned this viewer in its grip.
Simon Zalkind, the director of Singer Gallery, has done an exemplary job selecting the collection from among three decades worth of courageously shocking photographs that project a wealth of history, connecting our personal and external landscapes, images that reflect joy--kids playing in windowed alcoves.
Jerusalem, 1995, Silver Gelatin Print.
Anguish -- the artist holding her bowed head between two hands.
Untitled Self Portrait 2007
Playfulness--the artist's feet half in or next to satin shoes (I like to think they are red) the photographs are dramatic in black and white.
Self Portrait 1998
Or the light-hearted image of Merage's face painted clown-like, the camera pointed at the viewer, or is it at the artist's own image in the mirror, her mocking tongue protruding from between lipstick-smeared-mouth. Is it worth taking life so seriously, Merage seems to ask?
Untitled Self Portrait 1994
What are we to make of the exaggerated, Cleopatra-like makeup, framing the eyes in this self portrait?
1979, Silver Gelatin Print.
Such mischievous makeup contradicts the daringly glaring stare, creating confusion, raising questions. The artist, it seems, is playing with our minds, preventing us from arriving too quickly at any simple conclusion, forcing us to linger a bit longer, to meditate a bit longer, refusing to let us step away content in our success at having succeeded to decipher the intent of the artist. This body of work is meant to be interactive. A collaboration between artist and viewer.
Each photograph succeeds in engaging all our senses. Each photograph demands its own analytical process. Impatience is not an option. A brave artist, who dares to risk all, to render herself vulnerable to thousands of critical eyes, merits our attention. So take your time and decipher the rich layers each image contains and be rewarded when you arrive at your own privately personal inference.
In the end, the triumph of art is in its openness, its ability to raise controversy and incite change. In this, Merage has succeeded admirably.
All photos courtesy of Laura Merage.
The exhibition will be open to public until October 17, 2010
For more information about the artist, visit http://www.lauramerage.com
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