Natasha Lehner Receives 2024 Graduate Arts Fellowship

The Kenan Institute of Ethics has awarded its 2024 Graduate Arts Fellowship to Natasha Lehner, MFA Candidate in Experimental and Documentary Arts at Duke University.

One of several Kenan programs focused on the intersections of ethics and the arts, the Graduate Arts Fellowship supports the creation and exhibition of new work at the leading edge of documentary practice. It is awarded to one second-year student in Duke’s MFA|EDA program each year.

A photographer primarily working in film, Tash Lehner blends abstract photographic compositions with carefully selected archival texts and images. Juxtaposing the public and the personal, she creates open-ended, branching narratives with multiple points of entry and multiple interpretations, which offer no easy resolutions to their provocations.

“I hope people come to my work with a general sense of curiosity,” Lehner said, “and follow a line that might not be the one I designed for the viewer.”

As the 2024 Graduate Arts Fellow, Lehner will install an exhibit of her work in the Kenan-Keohane Gallery and give an artist’s talk at a public event on Monday, February 12.

Lehner’s exhibit, “More of Everything,” incorporates materials from the personal archive of her biological grandfather, Harvey Karman, who died in 2008 and whom she never knew. Karman was a psychologist and an abortion rights advocate who sought to make the procedure as accessible as possible. In his quest to do so, he experimented with controversial abortion technologies, some of which caused harm to patients. Yet the Karman cannula, a medical instrument he invented in the early 1970s, made early abortions safe and accessible, and is still in use today.

A father of four, Karman helped several other families conceive children by donating sperm. One of these children was Lehner’s father, who found out about his true parentage ten years ago, instantly connecting him with an extended family that he never knew existed. For Lehner, a whirlwind reunion with her biological relatives ensued — along with the discovery that, like her and her father, Karman was an avid photographer, some of whose abstract compositions bore startling resemblances to her own.

“More of Everything” reflects both Karman’s compelling and complex life story and the surprisingly strong connection that Lehner felt emerging between Karman, her father, and herself. The resulting exhibit brings together both new work and photographs from Lehner’s archive; photographs and poems from Karman’s archive, shared by his family; and photographs and text by her father, David Lehner. Additionally, Lehner uses archival images from media contemporaneous with key periods in Karman’s life.

The exhibit serves as “an impossible union” of three generations, Lehner says — a means of “generating a conversation that can’t be had.”

“This is the version of the story I’m ready to tell right now,” she said, acknowledging that countless others remain.

“You are more of everything, including love” is a line from one of the many poems in Karman’s archive. “More of Everything” shows how a story — and life — contains an infinite expanse of meaning, as do the other stories and lives that it touches. It explores not only the tensions between the private and public life of a complicated figure, but the mystery of how intimate and strongly felt connections between human beings can be. In spite of time, distance, and never knowing each other, “More of Everything” suggests that sometimes, somehow, we can.

“More of Everything” runs February 12–March 8, 2024, in the Kenan-Keohane Gallery in the West Duke Building on Duke University’s East Campus.

This exhibit precedes a larger exhibit on the same material to be shown at Cassilhaus on March 22–April 16 as Lehner’s MFA|EDA Thesis Exhibition.