Essay by Lissa Rivera

It is natural to encounter the phenomenon of metamorphosis. There are some who steadfastly hold on to one single self, like the only building left standing after a torrential hurricane. Others allow their materiality to take flight—like soft, porous wood swept into the cold current of the ocean, not so much to meet oblivion, as to experience regeneration—a co-mingling with harsh salt, to be re-sculpted by crashing waves and brushed by fish’s bellies and the small, sharp teeth of aquatic wildlife. The blues and greens of Rana’s work wrap around her partner Matty like a shallow current still hot from the sun, though embraced by evening’s darkness.

Within the submarine-tight walls of the domestic arena, away from the performance of daily life, Rana documents the intangible, uncategorizable emotions of personal pain and desire for transcendence, played out in barely coherent gestures transmitted through intuitions based on subtle breathing patterns and coded glances. The silence of a still photograph is more suited than the volume and motion of cinema to describe the melancholy and the hope intertwined in these stages of change and mourning, at the point of all relationships when two must part in death or life. It is the stage at which the dim, soft-edges of an unknown future suck you forward, as the bondage of your past self disintegrates like fragile and cracked leather once supple and rich oil-black. 

The Rug’s Topography is a record of true love and empathy. Set behind closed doors, in moonlit hours, in the hours lit by the yellow glow of tungsten bed lamps, on Sundays characterized by unkempt hair, tangled sheets, and soft unwashed denim, when the most honest of words escape despite unknown consequences. It is a document of Rana’s true love for Matty, allowing for her release and rebirth despite the end of all constructs that were the foundation and comfort of their past lives. It is the wonder and awe of witnessing and allowing for another person to change and fully live; the acknowledgment that the pain of living a lie is far greater than the pain of loss. 

The artificiality of gender roles, the pressure to succeed as what one thinks a “man” or “woman” should be, and the impact of perceived failures to play those parts in relationships or as individuals are universal struggles. In the end, underneath our mass-produced garments and formulaic hair arrangements, we are all just flesh—imperfect bodies serving as vehicles for complex minds. We are all on a spectrum of interpretation of the identities (masculine, feminine, and in-between) that have crossed our paths, which we mimic as a form of survival. Though Rana and Matty’s photographs depict their specific relationship and personal transitions, they are emblematic of an experience anyone can enter.