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May 6th, 2017

Maya Økland

Stranger in Motherland

Book Launch
+ reading by Henning Bergsvåg

Saturday May 6th, 8- 11pm

Entrée, Markeveien 4b

Press Release

Stranger in Motherland is a photobook about identity and ancestry by the Norwegian artist Maya Økland. The book is published by Teknisk Industri AS, and designed by La Tigre. The book collects photographs from four of Økland's trips to her mother’s home country, Brazil, carried out between 1999 and 2013. Økland's portraits and landscapes document her meetings with relatives of all ages in everyday environments.

The people photographed by Økland pose freely, alone or in smaller groups, usually near their homes. They are casually dressed and naturally lit. The pictures have an informal quality and are uniformly frontal. A group of children smile towards the lens, an older woman is preparing cow guts. A young couple holds each other tightly.

In line with prominent practitioners of portrait photography like Thomas Struth and Rineke Dijkstra, Økland makes the social circumstance of the people she portrays evident. Her images are characterised by a naturalistic, documentary gaze, allowing what appears to be an authentic insight into the daily lives and living standards of the people that appear in her photographs.

This documentary approach to photography is complicated by Økland's familial bonds to the people and places that appear in the book. The images in Stranger in Motherland demonstrate a distance between photographer and subject owing to their documentarian characteristics, underscoring Økland’s perception of being a «stranger in her motherland».

Økland’s approach also allows for a paradoxical tension between distance and familiarity, giving the book an affinity with both family photo albums and anthropological photography. The name, location and year are carefully noted next to each image, but little is revealed about the relationship between subject and photographer. Stranger in Motherland can be read as deeply personal, but also as an exploration of family life in Brazil.

An introductory poem by the Norwegian-Chilean writer and musician Pedro Carmona-Alvarez describes a visit to his mother’s hometown. Like Økland’s photographs, the poem deliberates over the experience of distance and closeness, the familial and unfamiliar.

Stranger in Motherland also includes an essay by Art historian Helga Nyman which introduces Økland's practice and contextualises her work in light of recent photographic practice and portrait traditions. Nyman's close reading of several of the photographs in the book problematizes the idea of the photograph as an objective document. The notion of being an outsider is an overarching theme.