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‘She Who Tells a Story’ exhibit on book shelves

“Untitled” by Shadi Ghadirian.

Shadi Ghadirian/Museum of Fine Arts

“Untitled” by Shadi Ghadirian.

Telling their story

In a haunting exhibit that closed last month at the Museum of Fine Arts, images of a woman, her daughter, and a doll fade into black. Eight photographs, each 24 by 16 inches, progress from a trio in brightly colored clothing to one in which each wears a niqab, the full Islamic veil with a slit for the eyes. The three figures are absent from the ninth photograph, the final in the series. What remains is a black backdrop and the black pedestal on which they had posed.

Boushra Almutawakel, who was born in Yemen, is the woman in the series as well as the creator of the images. She is one of 12 artists featured in the exhibit, “She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers From Iran and the Arab World.” Fortunately, for those who missed the show — and for those who saw it and, like me, want to return to the provocative images — the Museum of Fine Arts published a book with the same title. Written by MFA curator Kristen Gresh, it features images from the show, albeit at a reduced size, as well as essays about each photographer’s work. It’s a book to linger over. In some of the most striking images, everyday objects are juxtaposed with items conjuring a harsher reality, like the one in which a couple is hanging laundry on a long strand of barbed wire.

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This kind of companion book is nothing new for the MFA, which has been in the publishing business almost from its start. Two of the museum’s top sellers are an Edward Hopper book, published in connection with a show in 2007, and a John Singer Sargent watercolors book, published to accompany an exhibit that closed last month.

“Untitled,” from the series "Women of Gaza," by Tanya Habjouqa.

Tanya Habjouqa/Museum of Fine Arts

“Untitled,” from the series "Women of Gaza," by Tanya Habjouqa.

The MFA’s books extend the museum’s reach. “I think of an art book as an art experience, though it may be removed by one level,” says Emiko Usui, the MFA’s director of publications. The majority of people who buy the book will never see the exhibit, she adds.

Now that videos are playing a bigger role in museum exhibits and in e-books, the publications department has been expanding its horizons. The iPad edition of “Musical Instruments” by Darcy Kuronen features audio and video clips of musicians performing on rare instruments ranging from an ancient Greek trumpet to a modern lap steel guitar.

This fall the MFA will debut two video-enhanced e-books that expand on two MFA books already in print. One is about pop artist Jim Dine and will include videos in which he talks about his printmaking. The other will feature the work of Israeli-born artist Ori Gersht, the subject of a recent exhibit. His “Big Bang” video opens with a still life that looks like a painting by an old master. Then the vase filled with flowers is smashed to smithereens, the pieces flying through the air in slow motion.

Coming out

 “Cell”by Robin Cook (Putnam)

 “Confessions of a Wild Child’’by Jackie Collins (St. Martin’s)

 “The Sun and Other Stars” by Brigid Pasulka (Simon & Schuster)

Pick of the Week

Josh Cook of Porter Square Books in Cambridge recommends “If Only You People Could Follow Directions” by Jessica Hendry Nelson (Counterpoint): “Memory doesn’t move in a straight line. It is digressive and imperfect. Nelson embraces the chaos by moving back and forth in time, free-associating among memories and organizing her life into a series of essays. What could be just another memoir of a family disintegrated by substance abuse becomes a vibrant and challenging exploration of abuse, obsession, coping, family, friendship, and self-discovery.”

Jan Gardner can be reached at JanLGardner @yahoo.com. Follow her @JanLGardner.

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