Rawiya- She Who Tells a Story Exhibition
I visited the Gulf Photo Plus gallery space in Dubai recently to view an exhibition by the Middle Eastern Women Photography Collective: Rawiya, which translates from Arabic as, She Who tells a Story.
The exhibition showcases the work of four female photographers from around the Middle East: Myriam Abdelaziz, Tamara Abdul Hadi, Laura Boushnak and Tanya Habjouqa.
The artist each displayed different visual styles and subject matter but showed similarity in that each set of photographs showed simple, human moments occurring within the Middle East region.
I will now outline the theme shared by each of the photographers and some of my thoughts on the work.
Laura Boushnak is a Kuwaiti born Palestinian photographer whose work ranges from conflict photography to pictorial story telling.
Boushnak displayed a selection of work from her ‘I Read I Write: Yemen – access to education’, series of work. The series is part of an ongoing project documenting women and education across the Arab world. Boushnak’s website cites that in Yemen, 2 out of 3 woman area illiterate and only 13% of girls attend secondary school, resulting from poverty, lack of resources and lack of parental awareness of the benefits of educated woman.
The subjects of her photograph are Yemeni woman, the first in their families to attend higher education, shown facing the camera and involved in daily scenes, such as studying and chores. For me, it was the handwritten text inscribed on the images (that had been translated to English and available in a leaflet) detailing Boushnak’s conversations with the students about their achievements and aspirations that helped to bring the challenges of the woman to life. The photographs documented the determination of these women in pursuing a future beyond that of wife and mother while helping to raise awareness of the work of YERO, the Yemen Education and Relief Organisation. YERO is a non-government organization, which aims to improve access to education for all and to support mothers with training, advice and assistance.
Myriam Abdelaziz is a French photographer of Egyptian descent. She exhibited from her series ‘Cairo Dances’, which shows portraits of Egyptian belly dancers posed in ornate costumes against a red, studio background. Abdelaziz notes that the portraits document the dying art of belly dancing, as a combination of economic and socio-religious factors have led fewer Egyptian women to continue this historically rich tradition.
The dancers are wearing traditional belly dancing costumes, which contrasted greatly with the abayas, headscarves and veils the woman were wearing in Boushnak’s work. I feel this helped to show the diversity of experience across the region. The photographs showed the woman in a variety of dance poses, which the gallery as having a monumental, almost memorialised quality to them. As Abdelaziz has set out to document the woman I could understand the static, ‘memorialised’ effect. I did, however, think that I would have liked to see a similar sort of image where the poses have more energy to reflect the spirit of dance.
‘Occupied Pleasures’ explores moments in the lives of Palestinians were there is some respite from the ardorous political and economic situations and people experience lighthearted moments of joy such as family picnics, children swimming and woman practicing yoga.
I found this series of work of particularly interesting possibly because some of the scenes that presented themselves seemed so recognizable as everyday leisure activities, such as two woman enjoying a scenic cable car ride or two men riding on a motorcycle smiling as though not a care in the world. Others though, seemed to superimpose a familiar activity with an unexpected backdrop. Such as the image of the women practicing yoga on top of the rocky hilltops on the outskirts of Bethlehem wearing sweaters and heavy overcoats. This seems to show the determination of the woman to claim their moments of enjoyment in harsh surroundings and weather.
I also liked that these photographs showed a glimpse into the day-to-day lives of the people of Palestine that more often than not is passed over by popular press in favour of ‘hard news’.
Tamara Abdul Hadi was born in the UAE, to Iraqi parents before being raised in Canada.
Abdul Hadi displayed work from her ‘Ramallah, 2011’ project where members of the Palestinian community were offered the opportunity to take a self-portrait. This was an idea she had developed after observing that so many residents of refugee camps in Palestine were being photographed so therefore decided to give these individual to choose how they would be represented.
They photographs show the head and shoulders of individuals of various ages, from young to old, and of both sexes, standing in front of a plain stone wall. The majority of individuals look at the camera face-on with a stoic, deadpan expression although a few of the children offer the hint of a smile.
I did like the basis of the series, that the individuals had control over how they were portrayed and that they were all presented with a similar plain background that would not detract from the portrait, leaving the viewer face-to-face with the model.
Abdul Hadi chose note to catalogue any information about her subjects’ lives, choosing to simply represent them through a photograph. The inquisitive side of me would probably have liked a little bit of information about the individuals involved, a first name, and an age. Although, I do realise not having this information leaves more room for questions and thinking.
It seemed to me at the exhibition that there were only a handful of these portraits on display and it did leave me eager to see more. This led me to Abdul Hadi’s website where, amongst other photographs from the series, there is a short Vimeo video that was recorded at the time of shooting.
Rawiya- She Who Tells a Story is running at Gulf Photo Plus until October 16th, 2013.