arab photographers

daily inspiration: the pleasure principles 

source: topic.com shot by Yumna Al Arashi

source: topic.com shot by Yumna Al Arashi

It's not the first time I feature the work of Yumna Al Arashi on my blog - for as long as I can recall Yumna's work as been inspirational to me. As an Arab and as woman and as an aspiring documentarian her work touches me. Her latest project, "The Pleasure Principles", which she shot for topic.com, resonated with me on an other-worldly level. I thought it deserved a post of its own. 

Although I have been aware of the project for over a month, Yumna's latest newsletter motivated me to write about it. I love that she shared her thought process behind the project, in the delicate, poignant way she does everything. The Pleasure Principles is a photo-essay that challenges the notion that the Middle East is devoid of sexuality and sensuality, and more specifically, that Islam is a religion that denounces sexual pleasure. I would love to go on about the project myself, but Yumna explains the concept more concinvingly than I ever could, so here is an excerpt from her newsletter: 

"About a year ago, I attended a conference in London where I spoke about the work I create. A man there told me that making erotic art was a Western made concept - that I wasn’t respecting my culture and history because of my interests in human sensuality. 

I immediately remembered a text translated by Sir Richard Burton, The Perfumed Garden. His introduction threw praises at the Arabs for their ability to please the senses and enjoy the delights of humanity; everything from incense, music, fabric and sexual desires. He specifically stated that without the influence of culture from the East, the West would be stuck in the dark ages... Soon after that conference, I found my way back to that book, but with a desire to find more like it. My treasure was overwhelming. 

Source: topic.com (additional note: the model here is my sister, Rama Ghanem) 

Source: topic.com (additional note: the model here is my sister, Rama Ghanem) 

My ancestors were perverts.

Edward Said was famous for coining the term “orientalism,” the infamous ways in which we as non-white people, have been rendered in imagery, tales, and stereotypes. Orientalism has ultimately led to an unbudging view of who we are to the white man. This includes our sexualities. For long, the majority of artwork about my ancestors was made by white men, and still is. We have been fetishised and demonized, from images of harems as sex concubines for men, to Disney’s Aladdin, and even now, Sex with Refugees. Arab movements towards conservatism have left many of us who do wish to speak for our own bodies too scared to do so, or censored completely. I want to take ownership of our sensuality and the imagery that is created around it.

There are many heroes out there who are doing the work of reopening our worlds, and speaking on behalf of our sexualities for ourselves. Abdelwahab Bouhdiba, Shereen El Feki, and Hayv Karahman, are but a few in our contemporary world bringing sensual topics into the modern spheres of art and literature. They truly see the importance of reclaiming our sexualities and our sexual representations for ourselves. 

source: Yumna's Newsletter

source: Yumna's Newsletter

This body of work hopes to breathe new life into these texts, to resurface them for those who may have forgotten the importance of sexuality and erotica in our culture. My goal is to remind myself and others that our culture and religion praises the importance of sexuality, in all of its forms. Many may not know that Islam holds sex as a sacred act, that which brings one closer to God. It insists that sex is a vital part of a relationship, not just to procreate, but also for pleasure - so much so that, a woman may legally leave her husband if he does not sexually please her." 

Everything you've just read makes my heart beat so fast. I spent a good part of my life wondering why, as Arabs, we couldn't express our sexuality openly, and why our God didn't like the beautiful intimacy of human sexuality. I won't get into the geopolitical and historical complexity of the region - which Yumna touches on briefly in her writing above - but I am very much aware of its effect on how we see ourselves sexually. It is work like this that makes me feel less "othered" by my own culture. The Pleasure Principles make me proud of my heritage and sensuality while taking ownership of it. This is how one reclaims their own sense of empowerment. 

Above all, I think Yumna's concluding thoughts that motivated me to share all the above with you. She finishes by saying: 

"I've been thinking and talking a lot about privilege these days. Mainly about my own, and my duty to take full advantage of every privilege I have. So many Muslim women approach me regularly asking how I can do what I do without fear of consequence from my family or community. The reality is that my family is my support system. They have always been my biggest cheerleaders, especially my father. 

In much of the Muslim world, most things can't happen in a woman's life without the approval of her father - even small things like going to school to study. Since day one, my father has had my back and supported all of my artistic endeavors, and continues to feed me inspiration and knowledge. He not only accepts what I do, but he is an active part of it. That is one of the greatest privileges of my entire existence, and because of it, I can continue to allow so many other women to be inspired to do more. All because my father's choice to not raise me with restriction solely based on my gender.

Because I know my privilege, I try my best to make full use of it during my time on this planet. It also has made me realize that there is such an important role we as women take in raising our sons to be supportive men, either as fathers or in the communities that they will exist. Please remember this. And please always remind yourself of your privilege, and that your greatest contributions to society will exist solely due to your awareness of your privilege, whatever it may be. 

Be good, you all. Think for yourself. Don't let the machine think for you. Learn about the importance of securing your data and your free will. And for god's sake, get the fuck off the internet. Make your own food, be good to the people you love, don't drink too much, use your hands for more than just scrolling, and speak your mind." 

I think getting the fuck off the internet is my favourite part of the whole newsletter, and the advice of raising our sons to be supportive, active individuals to be great contributors to society. As women that is how we empower ourselves and one another, and how we empower future generations. I cannot get enough of women like Yumna, who continue to produce cultural work that breaks boundaries and influence women like myself to be who we want to be. Hats off to Yumna and all the other female creators out there who inspire me and my peers. 

The future is fiercely female. 

xx 

Darah (for follow the halo issue #5 - reclaiming empowerment). 

rama ghanem: this month's featured culturalist

I interviewed my sister, Rama, about her most recent projected titled "Girls in Conversation" a photo-journal about what it means to be a woman of color living far away from home, and the feeling of loss that comes with it, amplified by heirlooms left behind. 

Hi Rama! Tell us a little bit about you

I’m a mixed media artist based in London, where I study, and Dubai, where I grew up. I make work about a lot of things - but mostly about feminism and Arab women, Western Pop Culture, transnational identity, and sometimes about my own lived experiences. I often work with various media including photography, time-based work, installation and net art. 

And tell us a little bit about your project

This project was a series of unstructured interviews with women of colour who come from a diaspora background, with questions around their home(s), identity, material items passed down to them as heirlooms, what they might pass down themselves, memory, and creative output. Photographs were taken during and after the interview process.

To what extent does being part of a diaspora group influence how you see the world and in turn your art?

It absolutely influences how I see the world because diaspora is more than physical displacement. There’s a mental disorientation that comes with that shift in environment. Diasporic individuals experience what is called a double consciousness, a term used to describe that fragmented sense of who you are. Sometimes your identity can become a matter of choice and other times (due to inequality) some of us have no choice but to conform to one thing or another. What I find compelling about looking into those layers of identity is seeing what unifies individuals from different diaspora backgrounds, but also the dissimilarities between them. It's interesting to think about how our condition changes in relation to the spaces we occupy and move through, in that sense also, the diaspora are very fluid and alive.  What was beautiful about each of those interviews was the vast difference in cultural experience but also how each of them expressed an attachment and sentimentality to their belongings, which I imagine is particular to people who are familiar with loss.

 It was quite a personal and intimate project. there’s an unstated trust there, when you’re taking pictures of somebody. There’s a vulnerability on my end as the photographer too, because it is my gaze that is imposed on somebody else, and so in a way it becomes about who I am as well. I stopped taking things at face value and recognized that everything is delicately connected to everything else in like for example how the things that belong to you shape your sense of belonging to something else. 

Why photography?

It wasn’t always my choice of medium in much of my previous work but when it came to looking inward and probing around this idea of holding something dear, photographs that you could touch made a lot of sense. I think I’ve actually always had a fascination with freezing a moment in time. As someone who came from a displaced family old photographs were my window into what life could have been like for me if I had grown up closer to my roots. It can be such a potent medium, but I don’t think it’s the aesthetic potential of it that pulled me. Though we’re bombarded with so many images every day, and that oversaturation of beautifully curated content from social media and advertising etc makes it difficult to create something really eye catching because we have almost seen it all. I decided to follow a different approach and to look past the composite aesthetic and try to just give you the person behind it. I don’t think it’s about the images really.

What’s next for you?

I think I’m going to venture further into photography or film. I’m not the type of person who plans my projects in advance, it is always the case for me that I reflect on my daily experiences and am able to express an idea inspired by that experience when it happens.

You can follow Rama's work on instagram here @itsactuallyrama

daily inspiration: tanya habjouqa 

source: lensculture.com

source: lensculture.com

I think I've found my forever woman crush. Tanya Habjouqa is everything I aspire to be - witty, smart, confident, vibrant, emotional, energetic, spirited and a world-class photographer. She's the winner of the World Press Photo (Photo of the Year) in 2015 and was my recently my mentor at Gulf Photo Plus Photo Week 2018. From 7 - 12 February I was part of a workshop lead by Tanya (workshop of my dreams frankly) that brought together a group of 10 Arab photographers working on long-term documentary projects. I can't even express how I feel about the last 5 days. Being around Tanya for that long was just... rejuvenating. I never felt more motivated to go out there and share the stories I believe matter so much. 

It was an experience I am so humbled to be a part of, mostly because I got to see some of Tanya's most recent work - which often touches on the political tensions of Palestine/Israel as well as the war in Syria - and also because I got to be intellectually stimulated by an Arab woman I fiercely admire. Tanya's work challenges the Occupation and Israeli apartheid in subtle ways making the audience question the short stories in each image. Her work also shares tragic stories of love and loss in the aftermath of the Syrian refugee crisis. My most favourite project of hers is "Tomorrow There Will be Apricots" - a title that insinuates sunshine harbours darkness when translated to Arabic. "Tomorrow There Will be Apricots" is a metaphor for broken dreams and wishes unfulfilled. Tanya's intense passion for the stories of the people photographed is awe inspiring. 

For more of Tanya's work click here or here

daily inspiration: moroccan photographer hicham gadaf

Source: Arab Documentary Photography Program

Source: Arab Documentary Photography Program

After two intense days doing this workshop at Photo Week 2018, I am so full of new ideas and inspiration that I feel almost hung over. I have so many stories and artists I want to share, but I don't want to overwhelm my page  - maybe I'll release some of this inspiration gradually in coming issues of my newsletter. 

Anyway, for today's inspiration, I want to share the work of documentary photographer Hicham Gardaf. Hicham is of Moroccan origin and focuses on topics related to urbanisation and identity specifically in his home country. The image above is my favourite from his collection titled "Intersections" which explores city 'fringes and borders' and their coexistence with contemporary society. I love the mood and the feel of Hicham's work and you can view more of the project here

daily inspiration: photographer abbas habiballa

abbas_habiballa_photography.jpg

I stumbled upon Sudanese photographer Abbas Habiballa's work while scouring the internet for more resources about Sudan (I have an article currently under construction and looking for references). I love finding the work of photographers who lived before our digitalized age because it shows the true extent of their talent - no easy digital equipment to make everything look good. It takes true artistry. 

From what I gather Habiballa was born in the 1950s and pursued photography in the 60s and 70s, during the era of Sudan's post-independence, post-modern aesthetics. He took everyday photos around his neighbourhood and hometown. Sometimes you just need plain old raw artistry to shake and move you. 

I love this photojournal of his work. 

daily inspiration: azeema mag

Sometimes when I am running low on inspiration (or motivation) to share the stories I am dedicating my time to tell, I search for something that can push me. I look for women or projects that do the same - working towards creating a movement for something. The inspiration I found today was from the founder of Azeema Mag, Jameela El Faki. Jameela is self-publishing Azeema, and says that her main purpose is to inspire "strength, togetherness and self-acceptance" and wanting to "empower not offend". 

Empower not offend. That's the inspiration I needed today. You can follow Azeema mag on Instagram @azeemamag or azeemamag.com

Photographs sourced from banatcollective.com

daily inspiration: arab female photographers

This year has been the year I discovered a number of incredible Arab female photographers. As an aspiring photojournalist and storyteller, this discovery was transformative. For as long as I remember, I always wanted to tell visual stories - but growing up I never knew any Arab women who were involved in visual storytelling. This was because a) most photographers/filmmakers who make it to the mainstream are men, and b) many female photographers that do make it often aren't WoC. 

On some level, I think this discouraged me from ever believing that I could one-day share stories and be taken seriously or heard. But this year, things changed. Thanks to technology, more than ever before, WoC are able to share their work and be heard. And that's something that has encouraged me to fearlessly share stories. I am so proud to see so many incredible Arab women smashing glass ceilings and telling beautiful stories about us

So, for today's daily inspiration I am sharing the work of female photographers/photojournalists from the Arab world that I fiercely admire. Here's to a year of catching dreams and telling stories.

In the photos above are works from Yumna Al-Arashi (Yemen/Egypt), Tasneem Al Sultan (Saudi Arabia) and Tamara Abdul-Hadi (Iraq).