text and photo by Vanessa Ullman
“Life itself is the most wonderful fairytale.” Although this quote from Hans Christian Anderson is not displayed in the “Make Believe” exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, its message rings true of the exhibitions intensions.
The exhibition, which runs until Jan. 20, is a creative take on showcasing fantastical elements, such as a human floating in midair, with the use of photography. There are also deeper themes to it, as the creators incorporate “real-world concerns of being and becoming,” as noted in the museum’s online description. Shadi Ghadirian and Hellen van Meene, two the exhibition’s photographers, highlight these existential questions of life through their art, using their medium as a social commentary on being a Muslim woman, and the anxiety that comes with being a teenage girl.
Much like these themes, the exhibition itself has an eerie, almost dream-like state to it. With dark colored carpeting and low lighting, the small room could be described as hauntingly beautiful. A mix of paintings and sculptural artwork line the walls, and each of them feel cohesive with the fairy tale aspect of the exhibition.
Although the exhibition is contained to one room, there is a lot to be seen. A standout piece, featured on the website, is “Untitled #465.” This photograph depicts a modern version of Sleeping Beauty with a twist. The woman in the photograph is sleeping, but she is suspended in midair. Created by Hellen van Meene, this artwork is not quite surrealism yet not quite a true photograph. It is a unique and subtle take on such an iconic princess story, and the focus is on her human qualities rather than her royal ones.
This theme of defying the constructs of space and normalcy continue on to other works throughout the exhibition. There is the more literal take on the classic tale of a Hans Christian Anderson favorite, “The Princess and the Pea,” where a teenage girl is photographed lying on top of nine mattresses. Then there is the more fictional take on young women in the fairy tale world, with a photograph of a girl with two heads standing in a deserted field.
There are ventures outside of the fairytale narrative, as well, with a wall displaying art from different creators, including an installation of paper cranes on the ceilings. At first glance, Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick’s piece resembles a flock of traditional paper cranes. However, each paper crane is made out of notgeld or “emergency money” in German used after the collapse of the economy in Germany and Austria during and after WWI. With the title of “Currency Birds,” this installation, though different from the fairy tale works, is still reminiscent of the whimsical aspects of the “Make Believe” exhibition.
Even though “Make Believe” is a slightly smaller exhibition than some, it is still worthwhile to take a trip to the Museum of Fine Arts to see the work of artists that incorporate fantasy, magic and illusion into their art pieces. From Meene’s current take on fairy tale protagonists, to Ghadirian’s take on a Persian folk tale in the series “Miss Butterfly,” to the installation of Kahn and Selesnick, as well as Paolo Ventura’s “The Magician,” there is a wide variety of wonderment for viewers to see.
At a time where there is constant tension in the outside world, as well as the hectic energy of Commonwealth Avenue, it is important to remember the magical stories of childhood. Visit “Make Believe” this winter to find that combination of childlike fantasy mixed with more mature contemporary social issues.