DETAILS UNKNOWN: A portfolio of images of women by Ida Kar
Ida Kar, in her fifties, focused her attention on women who are seen to be enjoying what they do, which is to say: being artists, gallerists, writers, diplomats, dancers, and revolutionaries. The women in these photographs are shown in their midlife, an age where women often feel invisible within society, particularly so in the 50’s and 60’s when women were not to be understood as societally productive. Armenian in origin, Ida Kar’s family emigrated from Russia to Iran and then to Egypt, where she spent much of her life. In Egypt, she was a surrealist, one of the only photographers in the Art + Freedom group. Kar looked at the psychoanalytic propensities of the movement to find identity in a world of migration, colonization, and constant war as no European powers during the period between the two World Wars were peaceful in the Middle East or Africa. In 1945, Kar moved to London and it was here that she focused her attention on females whom she photographed in intimate acknowledgement of their identities as migrants, mothers, seekers of gender confirmation and spiritual alternatives to the practices of their families. Some of them were married. If they had had husbands or male counterparts it is their names you would most likely recognise. If you know more than three of the women pictured here, you have defied history’s push to erase those whose identities did not encourage market confidence from an early age.
Kar could take these pictures, as her contemporary in Egypt, Lee Miller, could make intimate pictures of women at war, because Kar believed in women, because she believed that they worked and enjoyed it, because she believed women were worth seeing and remembering and naming after their twenties, but perhaps because she herself, in her own midlife, knew how easy it is to disappear. As we see their credibility seriously through her eyes, it is now prescient to resuscitate heroes like Ida Kar, who infiltrated and traversed art movements of her day to accurately observe her time, fighting a war of representation to reanimate the women she deemed worthy of seeing closely: to say their names, see their work, and recognize the way we have historically consolidated power unnecessarily in the hands of a few.
The collection of photographs presented here is a select edit by this volume's contibutor Farrah Karapetian and is shown with kind permission from the National Portrait Gallery. Karapetian directs our gaze towards Kar and elects her as an alternative gatekeeper of twentieth century creativity. This is an invitation to reconsider Kar’s perspective of representation and in doing so, provoke a new charge to the discourse of 21st century mythologies of women; of performance, of ideological values, and art as protest.
Ida Kar © National Portrait Gallery, London.