THE POWER OF THE IMAGE

Sama Alshaibi, Ma Lam Tabki (Unless weeping) from Silsila series, 166 × 250 cm, diasec print, 2014

Selections talks to six talented female photographers from the Arab world and Iran whose work spans the gulf between East and West, transcending language and culture to tell universal stories

by India Stoughton

Some of the world’s most talented photographers hail from the Arab world and Iran. Today, whether they live at home or overseas, they find themselves caught between
two regions failing to connect, in a world where Islamophobia and misapprehensions run rampant.

Each of the six women interviewed in this issue deals with this in their own way, some choosing to address the gulf between East and West directly in their work, others approaching it more obliquely. Yet ultimately, each achieves a similar alchemy — using photography as a tool, they are able to transform and translate their personal experiences into a universal format, rendering their subject matter accessible to people of any background, challenging harmful stereotypes and championing new perspectives.

Iraqi-American photographer Sama Alshaibi tells Selections how Arab women in the U.S. are under siege and reveals details of her upcoming project, Carry Over, which sets out to deconstruct colonial images of women from the Middle East and North Africa.

Sama Alshaibi, Obverse Discursive
Sama Alshaibi, Obverse Discursive

Reclaiming Women’s Bodies

Iraqi-American photographer Sama Alshaibi explores war, displacement and discrimination through photographs of the human body

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Sama Alshaibi once thought she wanted to be a war photographer. But having studied photojournalism at university in the U.S., she quickly realised that she was drawn to a different kind of work.

“I first began in photojournalism because I wanted to document the effects of war and migration on human lives,” she recalls. “I quickly changed my practice to use my own body, as I wasn’t comfortable photographing people when
they were most vulnerable. I also felt I was better suited towards conceptual art, because metaphor and performance could play an active role at suggesting the complicated layers of human struggle. It was a ‘language’ I was at home with.” Today, Alshaibi works in photography, video and installation, exploring the causes and aftermath of war, displacement, exile and mass migration through the vulnerable human body — particularly the female body.

“Women are always targets of violence when their communities are under duress, both historically and now, from any ethnicity, race or religion,” she says. “What makes Arabic/Islamic women particularly vulnerable in the U.S. right now is multi-faceted but, in simple terms, those who wear the
hijab are an easily distinguishable target for Islamophobia and hate crimes.”

These incidents have increased since the election of Donald Trump, she says. Where, during George Bush’s term, women wearing the hijab were viewed with pity, they now elicit fear.

Sama Alshaibi, After the Vote
Sama Alshaibi, After the Vote

“I first addressed this in my work Between Two Rivers,” Alshaibi explains. “Back then, Bush’s war in Iraq was growing more unpopular as time dragged on and weapons of destruction were not found… The administration, with the help of the media, began to conflate women’s rights in Iraq with exporting Western democracy…. Most people in the U.S. had no idea that Iraqi women once enjoyed some of the strongest rights and protections in the Middle East, most of which now has been eroded under the new constitution, as well as the terror they experience daily since the weakening of their country’s security apparatus.” Alshaibi, who often photographs her own body, conveyed this violence through her work by physically altering herself with scarification.

A new project, entitled Carry Over, likewise tackles perceptions and misperceptions of women. The work “deconstructs vintage, colonial images of women from the Middle East and North Africa and the similar contemporary depictions of them made by Western photographers,” she reveals. “I hope to deconstruct why and how complex Arab female identities are reduced and then reproduced through photographs, in that it trivialises their relationship to security, homeland and their socio-economic mobility, simply through how they choose to dress.”

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER

selections-arts-logo

SELECTIONS is a platform for the arts, focusing on the Arab World.

Selections editorial presents a quarterly print magazine and weekly online publication with high quality content on all subjects related to Art and Culture. Full of world-leading artworks, exquisite brand imagery, original creative illustrations and insightful written articles.
Selections Viewing Rooms presents carefully curated online art shows aiming not only to shed light on contemporary art executed by living artists, but also for viewers to buy contemporary fine art, prints & multiples, photography, street art and collectibles.
Discover the previous and current shows here.
Cultural Narratives foundation is an extensive collection that is travelling the world by leading established and emerging talents aiming to reflect the culture of the region in their works.

RANDOM READS

Artistic Unity: Art in the UAE: Interview with Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim

This article appeared in The Artistic Unity Issue #67 that was dedicated to the art scene in the UAE in which we unravel the threads of unity by exploring the perspectives of various stakeholders within the UAE’s art community. Through…

‘Echoes of the Earth: Living Archive’ by Refik Anadol at Serpentine Gallery

Serpentine presents ‘Echoes of the Earth: Living Archive,’ a captivating exhibition showcasing the latest works by the esteemed artist and AI innovator, Refik Anadol. Running from February 16th to April 7th, 2024, at Serpentine North, this exhibition promises to immerse…

‘An Art for a Cause: A Selection of Artworks Engaged with Palestine’ at Saleh Barakat Gallery

Saleh Barakat Gallery presents ‘An Art for a Cause: A Selection of Artworks engaged with Palestine,’ an exhibition showcasing a significant array of artworks sourced from the gallery’s private collection. The featured artists within this exhibition have a rich history…

‘On the Roster, Highlighting Elmarsa Gallery’s Represented Artists’ at Elmarsa Gallery Dubai

Elmarsa Gallery announces its upcoming exhibition, ‘On the Roster, Highlighting Elmarsa Gallery’s Represented Artists’ a comprehensive exploration of the artistic endeavours undertaken by the gallery’s cadre of represented artists. The exhibition will be held at Elmarsa Gallery in Alserkal Avenue, Dubai,…

The Custodian: Interview with Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi

This article appeared in The Custodian Issue #66 that was dedicated to the Dalloul Art Foundation and its custodian Basel Dalloul in which we covered the foundation’s mission, influence and importance in championing and safeguarding Arab art for generations to…

Being Dia al-Azzawi: The Luminous Face Of Humanity By Claude Lemand

In an exclusive interview, Selections magazine asks gallerist Claude Lemand to reflect on an almost three- decade relationship with Dia al-Azzawi and how he has played a role in ensuring that the artist’s work remains in the public eye. Your…

february 2024

24oct(oct 24)09:0017feb(feb 17)09:00Growing Kopi, Drinking Qahwa; Stories of Coffee in Qatar and Indonesia

26oct(oct 26)09:0005mar(mar 5)09:00'MEHDI MOUTASHAR: INTROSPECTION AS RESISTANCE'

10nov09:0010mar09:00Armenia Contemplating the sacred