Rene Matić: “This book is where I’ve come from”

Reading through Time: 5 mins

This article is published in the latest issue of British Journal of Photography magazine, Activism & Demonstration, delivered direct to you with the 1854 Membership.

Far taken out of the patriotic flag-waving that will lays claim to the country, Rene Matić’s love letter for their Black, Brown and queer community offers an alternative vision of Britishness. Defiant and sincere, its very everyday life makes it an incidental voice of protest

In early 2018, Rene Matić picked up a well used point-and-shoot camera that had been lying around the house for years. “I didn’t even know if it proved helpful, ” says the visual artist over Zoom on the sunny morning in mid-September. Matić’s artistic practice has predominantly existed within the area of sculpture, installation plus moving-image, and they describe their own endeavour into photography being an “accident” – an test without foresight of exactly where it would lead. Three years later, a book, titled Flags pertaining to Countries That Don’t Can be found but Bodies That Do , brings the particular series of images together. From your first time Matić tested the particular camera, up until the present day, the cohesive narrative has shaped out of the messiness of lifestyle.

© Rene Matić.

“As someone who’s always looking for where I’ve come from, it was like, OK, so that’s not possible… [This book] is where I’ve come from. And when we’re older, we will look back and be like, ‘That’s where we came from’. ”

Through the three-year period, we bear witness to a testimony of a life lived. Matić takes us into personal moments of private trades shared between family (both chosen and blood). Within Chiddy Doing Rene’s Curly hair (2019), Matić’s good friend Chidera – who is a regular feature – carefully holds the root of Matić’s curls while she braids their hair, a good indicator of the unspoken trust that lies between them. Matić appears with their dad many times, revealing a resemblance in the way they hold their looks; a recognition of the impulse to self-archive, which is present in second and 3rd generation migrants whose household ephemera may have been lost in transit.

“My father doesn’t have any pictures associated with himself when he was younger, and the Black aspect of my family has no photos because they moved around so much in England, when they couldn’t obtain a permanent place to stay. So my granddad was continuously packing up, and issues got left behind, ” Matić explains. “As someone who’s always looking for where I’ve come from, it was like, OKAY, so that’s not possible… [This book] is where I’ve come from. And when we’re older, we’ll look back and be like, ‘That’s where all of us came from’. ”

© Rene Matić.

In the book, there are many pictures of Matić’s partner, Margaret. Maggie in bed, looking up with Matić and smiling, the word ‘GAY’ emboldened across their own chest. Maggie and Matić, mid-caress in the kitchen, with Maggie holding the camera. Maggie at home, black hair created in a flick with reddish colored lipstick on, reminiscent of outdated Hollywood glamour. Maggie outfitted to the nines, whether like a vampire on Halloween, within a white corset and a flamingo-esque cardigan, or a pink silk kimono dress, matching vision make-up and a beaded handbag.

Noted by Hannah Black in the book’s launch, the key signifier of the passage of time is Maggie’s ever-changing hair colour: “From american platinum eagle with dark roots in order to glossy black to fruit. ” A whole marriage unfurls in front of our eyes and as a viewer, we are asked into relatively unseen quotidian rituals of love. “Maggie is just this continuous, evolving thing in my life that I be able to watch at all times, ” states Matić. “It is unusual that sometimes I would want to put a full stop to some of those looks or some of the hairdos. Maybe it’s this particular moment of feeling overwhelmed by what I’m experiencing. You definitely know that you took another to recognise that what you had been looking at was worth some thing. ”

© Rene Matić.

Simultaneously, the chaos of the world reverberates behind the scenes. A shift occurs in 2020, with signs thanking key workers and a self-portrait associated with Matić jumping around, banging a pan with a wood spoon. Crowded images of individuals with handmade signs, fists raised, indicate last summer’s Black Lives Matter uprisings. “In this world – or the world of the book, let’s say – there are occasions that can’t be ignored, ” they say. Matić clearly felt an impulse in order to represent the momentous times we’ve been living through, however protest images are distinctive from others in the series.  

Elsewhere, Matić tends to hone in on purposeful faces in close closeness. With the protest images, they “tried to use ones that were the least incriminating or got the least amount of recognisable faces”: an acknowledgement of how law enforcement use protest photographs to distinguish and convict people. Still, there is a symbiosis in how Matić’s love letter for their Black, Brown and queer community holds the internal vocabulary of protest. Here, they may be defiantly living life fully in a country that attempts to incriminate their every day choices. “We go to protests to be among people who are want for like, and I think that is what is similar in regards to the other pictures where you are in a living room, or you’re at a party. They’re the same because you’re just there to be around and to make a world or a space or a country in a room that you can exist in, not even always safely, but just happily, maybe. ”

Love, closeness and community

Matić’s series is unified by a preoccupation with anti-symbolism. Their communal space does not recognise limitations, borders and countries. Nevertheless, patriotic references sneak within. On a trip to Skegness, Lincolnshire, on VE Day, Association Jacks and St George flags permeate the photos. Reflecting on that day time, Matić muses that while we have come to identify flags along with performing a reclamation of Empire, they are still exactly that: performances. “Maggie and I were walking around Skeggy, because it was lockdown and we had nothing to do, and there was this particular weird hyper display of trying to claim back Britishness. And yet here was this particular lesbian couple walking by means of this scene. It seemed we were in a film, ” they say. “It just proves that the display of Britishness is not real; it’s theatrics. And actually what was real was Maggie and I walking through it. ” The most stunning portrayal, in the world of Matić’s textbooks, is what they describe like “this overwhelming sense associated with love, intimacy and community”. When held up against the veracity of tenderness, all the oppressive forces begin to lose definition. “The big moments, want BLM or Covid-19, felt so crazy and emotional, but actually if you take a look at them in the book, they drop away. The presence of people plus love comes forward. I believe it’s a nice reminder that this will continue to be stronger, whatever we all go through. ”

© Rene Matić.

Something I recognise intimately as a combined race person is what Matić resists throughout the series: the ways in which Britain attempts to deny our existence, plus flatten the multiplicity of our lives with jarring simple guidelines that we don’t really belong here. So , when we talk of protest images, there is meaning to a photograph of thrown away Union Jack and Street George flags, stuffed down the front of Nike track-pants, against an exposed dark brown tummy. And there is defiance, too, in the image of Maggie, dressed all in pink in a decided act associated with pleasure, purposefully holding away a bag which reads, ‘I DIDN’T ASK YOUR OPINION’.

When Matić picked up the camera at the start of 2018, it was with no specific objective or direction. Whereas their usual creative process consists of a questioning of ‘what am I saying? ’ or ‘what is this countering? ’, this series is simply a glance behind the closed doorways of Matić’s world. “That’s the best part about it, we’re not doing anything other than just continuing amongst this disorder, ” they say. “And in fact, it’s not a sad tale at all, most of the time, because… nicely, look at us. ”   

Jamila Prowse

Jamila Prowse is an artist, writer and researcher who uses the girl experiences as a mixed race, disabled person of Black parentage to understand and subvert barriers to working in the arts. She is currently focusing on a series of films tracing the history of her ancestry by means of her relationship with the girl late father Russell Herman, a South African jazz music musician. Jamila holds the studio at Studio Voltaire and was a studio residency artist at Gasworks through January to April 2021. She has written for Frieze, Dazed, Elephant, GRAIN, Art Work Magazine and Photoworks.

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