'The Other Resurrection': Storytelling through images
The exhibition The Other Resurrection runs until May 30 at Contemporary Art Platform (CAP), Kuwait. This stunning photography exhibition gives a chance to explore the work of the Middle East’s best photographers. They take you on a journey with their poignant images and their visual stories are powerful, haunting and heart wrenching to say the least. In the current exhibition, 40 outstanding images have been selected from the works of six distinguished female photographers, each with her own process, technique and source of inspiration. The featured photographers are: Laura Boushnak(Palestine), Myriam Abdelaziz (Egypt), Tamara Abdul Hadi (Iraq), Tanya Habjouqa (Jordan), Dalia Khamissy (Lebanon) and Newsha Tavakolian (Iran).
‘Rawiya’ is an Arabic word, which when translated means, “She who tells a story”. The collective comprises of a group of six female photographers from across the Middle East and made its official debut at the Format Festival in Derby, UK, in March 2011.
Speaking through images, when words fail, these photographers from the Middle East attempt the return to a past that no longer exists and the departure into a future that remains unknown. In their very own words, “They present an insider’s view of a region in flux, balancing its contradictions while reflecting on social and political issues and stereotypes.”
With an artist’s eye, they eloquently capture their visual stories that offer representations against and beyond the stereotypes. The images reflect their diverse perceptions as they successfully explore issues of identity crises, sexual awakening, the literacy crisis and the unconventional graffiti and street art in Egypt and provide insight on the struggles, triumphs, and aspirations.
These women are not only truly remarkable photographers, but their dedication to chronicle the known and the unknown, the forgotten and the oblivious, is commendable.
Laura Boushnak is a Palestinian photographer born in Kuwait. Her work ranges from conflict photography to experimental storytelling. Boushnak firmly believes that women can only be empowered by literacy. She is noted for her comprehensive and impassioned series, I Read, I Write, which focuses on women in Egypt, a country the UN ranks as one of the ten worst in the world in terms of illiteracy. “In this series of portraits, women attending literacy classes in Cairo were invited to participate in the project by writing their own words on prints of the photographs and tell their own stories.”
"I Read, I Write" photo series by Laura Boushnak, Image courtesy of Rawiya Collective
“Their words explore the barriers that have blocked their aspirations, such as poverty, gender-related disadvantages, early marriage and cultural constraints,” says Boushnak, “Many women in the Arab world are denied education and thus deprived of the opportunity to grow and reach their full potential, which impedes the region’s progress,” she states.
Boushnak’s work has been published in the New York Times, The Guardian, The National Geographic and Le Monde.
As a writer and photographer, Tanya Habjouqa utilizes anthropology as her guide to storytelling in her journey through lens. She was born in Jordan and educated in the US, receiving her masters in Global Media and Middle East Politics from the University of London, The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).
Habjouqa is known for gaining unique access to sensitive gender, social and human rights stories in the Middle East. To see a Habjouqa image is to peel timeless metaphors of life, love, loss and a strong will to survive the odds.
"Women of Gaza" by Tanya Habjouqa. Young women exercise in gym, part of the women's associations with strong religious connections becoming increasingly predominant across Gaza. Image courtesy of Rawiya Collective
Recently, she began documenting the everyday lives of Palestinian women in the Gaza Strip. In her images, Habjouqa expresses an enduring message of hope in the face of adversity. “As a storyteller, I am drawn to the contradictions prevalent within the diversity of Middle Eastern culture(s).” Her series Women of Gaza is an eye catching commentary on a different side of Gaza.
“Despite the devastation, a community spirit and elegance prevails. Life continues, and so do the traditions and self-respect—a resistance to letting suffering be the standard definition. Women are continuing to care for their families, strive for education, and pursue careers against the odds.”
Iranian photographer Newsha Tavakolian began working at the tender age of 16 for a number of reformist dailies, all since banned. By the time she hit 21, she was working internationally, covering wars, natural disasters and social documentary stories in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Yemen. Women’s issues are a predominant theme of Newsha’s work.
Photograph by Newsha Tavakolian, Image courtesy of Rawiya Collective
The complex social and political issues in the Middle East are deftly captured by Lebanese Dalia Khamissy. She dwells especially on the aftermath of wars and their effect on people. Khamissy’s work evokes stillness and solitude. “I usually work on stories that touch me directly or indirectly and they are mostly people I relate to who are suffering and I wonder why people have to endure that,” says Khamissy.
While elaborating further, she says, “I feel a bit of inner anger, questions and frustrations and then comes the need to investigate those stories and try to understand. By listening to my subjects telling their stories, I make them comfortable and wanting to share more and this is the first step to building trust.”
“I share a lot of respect for people who open their spaces and accept me in to tell their stories and respecting people is the main key,” she says, adding further,” I always think that the simplest frame can be the most interesting one. I think the subject I am photographing is already very interesting and I do not need to make special efforts to make a very interesting frame. It is there in front of me, I just have to grab the camera and frame what my eyes see,” she adds.
"Missing" by Dalia Khamissy, Image courtesy of Rawiya Collective
Through images brimming with emotion, Khamissy in her Missing series explores “how those left behind approach the task of grieving and remembrance when there are no bodies to mourn, nor even verification of a death to which they could appeal to for closure.” The faces in the photographs, invite quiet contemplation of the human tragedy.
On the other hand, a portrait series titled Picture an Arab Man is another remarkable work by Iraqi Canadian photojournalist Tamara Abdul Hadi.
“The conceptual aim of this portrait series is two-fold: trying to uncover and break the stereotypes placed upon the Arab male, and providing an alternative visual representation of that identity. Secondly, it is a celebration of their sensual beauty, an unexplored aspect of the identity of the contemporary Arab man, on the cusp of change in a society that reveres an outdated form of hyper-masculinity,” explains Abdul Hadi.
"Picture an Arab Man" series by Tamara Abdul Hadi, Image courtesy of Rawiya Collective
“Through Picture an Arab Man; I strive to do what I can to redefine the image of the Arab man for an audience so accustomed to one-dimensional stereotypes… Most importantly, I hope to properly represent my subjects as diverse and candid men whose only thing in common is their rich Middle Eastern heritage,” she stresses.
“No matter who I am photographing, I try my best to make sure that they feel comfortable, whether they are in their own surroundings or not. Respect is the key factor, and staying true to the subject you are documenting is just as important,” she adds.
Abdul Hadi began her first job working as a photographer and photo editor at Reuters News Agency and later for the New York Times, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times. She has also initiated and taught photography workshops in Lebanon and Palestine, with the goal of giving empowerment to women and children through the creative arts.
Myriam Abdelaziz is a French photographer of Egyptian origins and was born in Cairo. A 2006 graduate of the International Centre of Photography, New York, Abdelaziz takes delight in telling stories through documentaries and portraitures, set in the Middle East and Africa. Her photographic series Writing on the Walls: Transition tugs at your heart.
"Writing on the Walls: Transition" by Myriam Abdelaziz. Photograph titled 'The Martyr'. During the transition government that started on Feb. 11th 2011 in Egypt, when President Moubarak stepped down, Grafitis denouncing the actions of the Army in power started spreading all over the city. Soon anti-Revolutionaries joined by trying to express their own opinon on top of the existing grafitis. Image courtesy of Rawiya Collective
Abdelaziz’s advice to our readers regarding photography is to “look at the images with your heart not with your eyes. It is about a genuine connection, the camera is just here to capture an instant where the subject is himself,” she notes.
“It is inspiring and motivating that some of the galleries based in Europe as well as US that have extended a hand to us are keen to bring something fresh and different from the region. One gallery tied to a university in Georgia (USA) specifically said they saw bringing our work as an educational opportunity for students to gain new insight into Middle East,” Habjouqa adds.
“We want to profile not only our social issues with nuance but to also celebrate the humor and tradition of our region often ignored,” reiterates Habjouqa.
Their approaches to the untold stories elicit mixed feelings of nostalgia and pain. “Through Rawiya we want to tell the stories of our societies that were not being told, because they were not in ‘the hot news’, although they are as important, if not more important, than the rest,” explains Khamissy.
“I think that photographers tend to forget that the most important is the subject and his story and not the photographer and his glory. Once that is remembered, the photographs would really come out very genuine,” stresses Khamissy.
As for the future, they add in unison, Rawiya will keep sharing stories from this region and beyond.
“We would like to become one of the reference points in the region- for photographers, journalists, artists, and people with an interest in Middle East in general… To be known for pushing social boundaries and bringing forth a different perspective often missing from Middle Eastern narratives.” and that indeed sums up the essence of Rawiya Collective.
Editor: Deepa Pant
Thanks for reading 'The Other Resurrection': Storytelling through images