Carolle Bénitah: Photos-Souvenirs

By Jean Dykstra, April 22, 2014

Carolle Bénitah, La cage dorée/The Golden Cage, 2012. Courtesy Sous Les Etoiles gallery

Moroccan photographer Carolle Benitah excavates memories from her family album and approaches photographs as unresolved material. She uses needlework to transform original snapshots with thread and pearls, disfiguring faces with red lines, putting parents and children in a golden thread cage, drawing flowers around the protagonists and plunging them into a fairytale. 

Benitah describes her process as a kind of exorcism, piercing the picture until her pain is relieved and imbuing family photographs with a disquieting feeling. In one photograph, she is about six years old and holding hands with her smiling brother, but an army of cockroaches surrounds the children, and their hands are bound together in a ball of red wool.

Carolle Bénitah, Les cafards/The cockroaches, 2009. Courtesy Sous Les Etoiles Gallery

In this show at Sous Les Etoiles Gallery through May 17, the images are organized chronologically and unravel Benitah's personal history while outlining an inventory of amateur photography. Black and white snapshots from the early 1960s precede the warm colors of Kodak film from the '70s. As the years progress, people disappear from the pictures, leaving her alone, submerged in thought in a photograph in in front of the ocean, about to be engulfed by a needlepoint wave. 

The artist's theme could be said to be love, and particularly the fear of not being loved that shapes and restrains women's desire at an early age. Unambiguously entitled What can't be said, a series of Benitah's photographs is comprised of close-ups of mouths, on which she wrote a series of silent desires. There is a dose of violence in Benitah's images, but in the end the prettiness of the needlepoint softens it.