Women of the Middle east tell their story

Contemporary and Old Art Reviews

Women of the Middle east tell their story

Postby jasperjoffe » Fri Dec 21, 2012 12:52 pm

I am sure this is an important worthy show, but the first few lines read like a parody of a socially concerned art show!

"Women of the Middle East tell Their Story

A Palestinian all-female auto racing team, transsexuals in Jerusalem, cluster bomb survivors trying to rebuild their lives, Iranian mother’s of martyrs who visit their son’s grave twice a week and parents in Lebanon who continue to wait for the 17,000 missing to come home. These are among the stories from Realism in Rawiya - a presentation of the first all-female photographic collective to emerge from the Middle East: Rawiya.

A collective body of work from photographers Realism in Rawiya (25 January – 20 April) bridges the worlds of documentary and art and is the group’s first major exhibition following their success at the 2011 FORMAT photography festival.

Director of Programmes, New Art Exchange, Melanie Kidd, said the show - which has a specific focus on gender and identity - captures the vision of the Rawiya: which translates from Arabic to ‘she who tells a story’.

“This exhibition captures and presents rich, diverse, eclectic, first-hand accounts of women from the Middle East. They are stories that both evoke a sense of universal humanity and challenge the status quo of racism and orientalism often presented in mainstream media,” she said.

All artists in Rawiya established their individual careers as photojournalists by working for news agencies and publications across the Arab world. By living and reporting in the region, they gained an insider’s view of the extremities of these settings, whilst also observing how their reportage could become reframed in the international media’s final edit of events.

Many artists in Rawiya have also lived the stories they tell, like Dalia Khamissy (currently in Beirut) whose work The Missing: Lebanon (2010 – ongoing) echo’s her own experience of her father’s kidnap when she was seven-years old.

Despite the wide-range of narratives that feature in the exhibition, Co-curator Saleem Arif Quadri MBE said the works also have similarities that go beyond the artist’s gender.

“From the story of cluster bomb survivor and double amputee Mohammed featured in the Survivor series, to the tender Arab body builders featured in Fragile Monsters: Arab Body Building, they all feed into the wider political and social story of the region, one that is often unseen,” he said.

The Rawiya photographers, which also include Myriam Abdelaziz (currently in Cairo), Laura Boushnak (currently in Sarajevo), Tanya Habjouqa (currently in East Jerusalem), Tamara Abdul Hadi (currently in Beirut), and Newsha Tavakolian (currently in Tehran) credit pooling resources and talents for their rapidly developing profile throughout the Middle Eastern region and beyond.

The work of Rawiya is beyond observation and reflection. It is, as artist Newsha Tavakolian said ‘a way of breathing within the smothering world of censorship.’

Events Details:

WHAT: Launch of Realism in Rawiya
WHEN: Thursday 24 January

TIME: 6PM, exhibition opening 7PM-8PM: Realism in Rawiya co-curator Saleem Arif Quadri MBE leads a conversation with Rawiya photographer Tanya Habjouqa. The talk will explore the accomplishments and challenges this fascinating all-female photographic collective have experienced in their development as photojournalists and artists.

WHERE: New Art Exchange, 39-41 Gregory Boulevard, Nottingham NG7 6BE

COST: FREE, all are welcome

RSVP: info@nae.org.uk or call 01159248630

Image credit: © Newsha Tavakolian. Image from Listen series.

For more information, further images or to organise interviews please contact Emma O’Neill, Marketing and Communications Manager, New Art Exchange P: 01159248630

e: emma@nae.org.uk

- Editor’s notes –

About Rawiya

Rawiya is photography collective founded by female photographers from across the Middle East. Rawiya presents an insider’s view of a region in flux balancing its contradictions while reflecting on social and political issues and stereotypes. As a collective, Rawiya’s photographers respect the human dignity of the stories they tell, pooling resources and vision to produce in-depth photo-essays and long-term projects. Rawiya, meaning ‘she who tells a story’, brings together the experiences and photographic styles of Myriam Abdelaziz, Tamara Abdul Hadi, Laura Boushnak,Tanya Habjouqa, Dalia Khamissy and Newsha Tavakolian.

About the artists of Rawiya and their work featured in Realism in Rawiya

Dalia Khamissy

Born in Beirut, Dalia Khamissy’s work revolves around the social and socio-political stories in the Middle Eastern region, documenting mostly the aftermath of Lebanon’s wars and issues concerning women rights. Dalia’s work has been published on the BBC, Aperture Magazine, The Times, Amnesty International, Ibraaz, Le Monde, and Wall Street Journal amongst others.

Abandoned Spaces: Lebanon (2007)

Dalia describes this collection as ‘not the story of Lebanon, but a story of a war’. At the time of the 2006 conflict in Lebanon, Dalia was working as a photo editor for an international news agency. She witnessed the conflict through the images she edited each day taken by other photographers. Although the news reports stopped transmitting weeks after the cease-fire, it wasn’t until Dalia visited south Lebanon in 2007, she understood the ongoing and devastating impact the attacks had left on the Lebanese people, whose lives had been changed forever.

She describes how private family homes, passed on from generation to generation, had been destroyed and turned ‘public’ in just a few seconds of war. The exposed contents of these dwellings – furniture, wallpaper, belongings – laid bare stories and memories of the people who once lived there. To reconcile with what had happened, amongst the chaos, Dalia attempted to document the peace she found in each vacant building, in an effort to return its dignity.

The Missing: Lebanon (2010 – ongoing)

Dalia was seven-years old when her father was kidnapped in 1981; three days later he was set free. Many years later, she understands her father was luckier than the others. She states:

‘17,000 people remain officially missing in Lebanon while their families still wait for their return. They all disappeared during the Lebanese civil war (1975-90), where they were abducted or killed at the hands of different Lebanese militias, PLO, Syria, Israel or their allies. The kidnapped were from diverse religions, gender, ages and political persuasions.

Lebanon, a small country (population of four million), is home to 18 official religious sects. After 15 years of civil war that ended with 144,000 dead and 184,000 wounded, an amnesty law in 1991 not only pardoned all those who took part in the war, but also relieved them from the obligation of testifying and sharing the information they have, including any details on the fate of the missing.

Since then, the parents of the missing have been demanding to know the fate of their loved ones. In the hope that their loved ones will one day return home, parents have kept the belongings of their missing: packs of cigarettes, shaving cream, toothpaste and tooth brush, pens and books, cassettes etc. Three to four decades later their homes and these cherished objects continue to reveal their wait for the missing.’


Laura Boushnak

Laura Boushnak is a Palestinian photographer born in Kuwait. She began her photography career covering news for the Associated Press in Lebanon and later worked as a photo editor and photographer for Agence France-Presse (AFP). Her nine-year wire service experience included covering hard news in conflicts such as the war in Iraq, and the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war. Her work has been published in the New York Times, The Guardian, The National Geographic, Le Monde and many more.

Since 2008 Laura has been working as a freelance photographer. As an Arab woman, who was raised, educated and who has worked in several Arab countries, she is committed to presenting projects which highlight the position of women in the Arab world.

In this exhibition we present two collections by Laura Boushnak. I Read I Write (2009 – 2012) responds to the 2005 UN Arab Human Development Report which indicates that Arab countries collectively have one of the highest rates of female illiteracy in the world. Half of all Arab women are illiterate compared to one-third of men. The collection focuses on the importance of education and the major barriers that the women face in accessing education, such as poverty, cultural constraints, minimum public spending on education and outdated teaching methods.

In Survivor (2007 – 2012), Laura focuses on young cluster bomb survivors trying to rebuild their lives. After covering the 2006 Hezbollah-Israeli war for the French News Agency (AFP), Laura was drawn to documenting the plight of those communities struggling to survive in the aftermath of war. After fleeing their homes and seeking refuge during the war, Laura witnessed the added injustice of individuals losing their lives and limbs to the cluster munitions left behind after the conflict.

Within the exhibitions we are introduced to Mohammed. Laura states ‘Mohammed lost both legs when he was sitting behind his father on a motorbike and drove over a cluster bomb in the last week of the war. Mohammed, who was 11 at the time, comes from a poor family, which can hardly meet their basic daily needs. He doesn’t go to school anymore and has no job. As days pass, Mohammed’s life is increasingly becoming harder; to a person, whose life’s obstacles were already burdens as a Palestinian refugee living in south Lebanon’.


Myriam Abdelaziz

Myriam Abdelaziz is a French photographer of Egyptian origins, born in Cairo. Focusing on the Middle Eastern and African regions, Myriam searches for stories that overcome physical and cultural barriers to reveal what global communities may have in common. She has exhibited internationally and has been published in Newsweek, Time Magazine, Forbes Magazine and The British Journal of Photography.

Two recent collections documenting the happenings of the Egyptian revolution have been selected for the exhibition.

Myriam Abdelaziz was in Cairo during the ‘18 days’ from 25 January – 11 February 2011 to both document the revolution, and to actively take part as an Egyptian citizen. Originally from the region, Myriam feels her understanding of the culture, and political and economic struggles the people of Egypt, have allowed her to capture moments and detail within the revolution that may have gone unseen to foreign photographers.

Of particular importance to Myriam was the position of women within the events the Arab Spring. Aware that women from the Middle East are often portrayed within Western media reports as veiled, oppressed or under the protection of men; Myriam was keen to counteract this unbalanced representation of gender. Within the Egyptian Revolution collection (2011) she presents the reality of the strong, successful, courageous and politically engaged Middle Eastern women who walked amongst the protesters asking for their rights to be heard.

Transition (2012) documents the year that passed once the SCAF (Superior Council for the Armed Forces) took power for a transitional time, promising to lead the country to democracy and fair elections. The frustration felt by the Egyptian people, over the lack of progress towards real democracy, manifested as graffiti on the streets of Cairo. Soon, anti-revolutionaries or remnants of the old regime, also engaged with this process by trying to express their own opinion on top of the existing graffiti.

All facets of society responded to the graffiti in order to make their opinions heard - young and old, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, liberals and conservatives, religious extremists and moderates, revolutionaries and anti-revolutionaries, pro Mubarak and anti-Mubarak. The SCAF has regularly painted over these political expressions, and by consequence, provided fresh white walls to continue the debate that Egyptians know will be ephemeral and always renewed. This body of works presents the aggressive dialogue between players within the revolution, highlighting a deep division within Egyptian society.


Newsha Tavakolian

Newsha Tavakolian, born in Tehran, Iran, is a self-taught photographer who began working for the Iranian press at age 16. She started at the women's daily newspaper Zan, and later on worked for other reformist dailies, all of which have since been banned. Her work has been published by international magazines and newspapers such as the Time Magazine, Newsweek, New York Times Magazine, and National Geographic. In 2007 she was a finalist for the Inge Morath award by Magnum Photo Agency and in 2009 she was a finalist for the Magic of Persia Contemporary Art Prize.

Newsha is particularly known for focusing on women's Issues. Her current works section between documentary photography and art. Her shift from photojournalism to conceptual photography was part forced by intense domestic political pressures on the media in Iran, and she describes photography as: ‘a way of breathing within the smothering world of censorship.’

In the Listen series Newsha presents portraits of professional women singers, whom, due to Islamic beliefs, who are not allowed to sing solo, perform in public or produce CDs. In Iran, female singers can only sing collectively or as back-up singers for male vocalists. Newsha has used the imagery within imaginary CD covers for the performers, and as a statement their CD cases are empty. The images are accompanied by a six screen video installation with silent clips of the women singers performing.

Within her collection Hajj Newsha explores, and attempts to deconstruct the masculine aspects of this Islamic Pilgrimage. The Hajj is the largest annually occurring pilgrimage in the world, and a religious duty that must be carried out by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so, at least once in his or her lifetime.

In 2008, Newsha participated in Hajj, making the journey to Mecca to document female observers and provide an alternative perspective to what she perceives to be a masculine undertaking. The images were first presented at British Museum in 2012 as part Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam, and Newsha hopes that viewers will read the images and question traditional aspects of Islam and the ways in which ritual is performed in relation to gender.

In Mother of Martyrs Newsha presents a series of portraits of mothers holding within their hands, portraits of the sons they lost in the Iran-Iraq war. The double use of portraiture within the artworks serves to highlight the contrast between the generations, and the ever-increasing chasm between the two. Whilst the portraits of the sons represent hope, pride and a youthfulness frozen in time, their mothers continue to grow older and depict the reality of what has been lost.

Newsha states: ‘Nothing is worse than surviving your own child. But these Iranian mothers are proud that their sons had given their lives to Iran. They were more like boys than men when they left for places like Salamche, Khorramabad and Dezful. They fought Iraqi Republican Guards from dusty trenches along the Iran-Iraq border for eight years. Some stepped on land mines while others died during Iraqi chemical attacks. At some point during that fight, all of these mothers received a letter informing them of their sons' deaths.

"The Blood of the Martyrs feeds the society," say the Iranian officials. Every Thursday and Friday the mothers visit their sons' graves at the immense Behest-e Zahra cemetery South of Tehran. The women are getting older, but their boys will always stay the same age - the age they are on the portraits their mothers cherish with pride. But now, with the revolution in trouble and the country run down, the mothers are starting to wonder whether the sacrifice was worth it’.


Tamara Abdul Hadi

Tamara Abdul Hadi was born to Iraqi parents in the UAE in 1980 and raised in Montreal, Canada. After graduating with a Bachelor of Fine arts she moved to Dubai, UAE and began her photography career as an artist and photojournalist. She has been published in The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, New York Times and The Financial Times. Her personal photography projects deal with issues of social injustice and deconstructing stereotypes.

Intended to literally picture a new face for Arab males than the ones we are so accustomed to viewing in the mainstream media, Picture an Arab Man breaks down stereotypes as to how Arabs have been represented in the West, as well as in the East.

By highlighting the sensual beauty of the Arab man, an unexplored aspect of their identity, Tamara challenges the outdated notion of hyper-masculinity that is on the cusp of change within the region. In addition, the collection attempts to break the global stereotypes imposed on the Arab male in a post 9/11 world, providing an alternative visual representation of that identity.

Tamara has photographed men in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Dubai, Palestine and Canada. They have been Iraqi, Syrian, Palestinian, Lebanese, Egyptian, Sudanese, Emirati, Jordanian, Omani, Saudi, Yemeni and of mixed heritage. As well as redefining the image of the Arab man for an audience so accustomed to one-dimensional stereotypes, she hopes to properly represent the protagonists as diverse and candid men whose only thing in common is their rich Middle Eastern heritage.


Tanya Habjouqa

Tanya Habjouqa was born in Jordan and educated in the US, receiving her masters in Global Media & Middle East Politics from the University of London, SOAS. Tanya Habjouqa's documentary photography takes us through the Middle East's conflict zones by capturing glimmers of hope, dignity and laughter; all of which (sometimes) override the region's emblematic stresses of division and war. Beginning her career in Texas, she documented Mexican migrant communities and urban poverty before returning to the Middle East. Based in East Jerusalem, she is working on personal projects that explore socio-political dynamics, occupation, and subcultures of the Levant.

Within the exhibition we present five collections by Tanya Habjouqa.

Women of Gaza (2009) depicts women and their families walking the fine line between hope and resignation. However, above all, the collection tells a story of survival, and depicts the attempts of the people of Gaza normalizing life in the most abnormal of situations.

The coastal community of Gaza has absorbed over 60 years of suffering, and still, in the face of adversity, maintains an enduring, but necessary, talent for survival and humor. Life continues, and so does tradition and self-respect. Women care for their families, strive for education, and pursue careers against the odds, demonstrating that ‘suffering’ should not be the standard definition of their lives.

In Jerusalem in Heels: Transsexuals of the Holy Land (2006), Habjouqa portrays the drag queens of Jerusalem. Palestinian and Israeli Transsexuals defy politics and social convention in rambunctious displays of heels and makeup as they fall in love, in a colourful denial of the darker elements of Jerusalem society.

Like fellow Rawiya exhibitor Tamara Abdul Hadi, Tanya Habjouqa’s explores male, as well as female identity within her practice. Fragile Monsters: Arab Body Building (2009) presents an alternate view of the supersized contestants within the 17th annual Arab Body Building Championship, revealing surprisingly tender, emotional, and insecure moments among the men.

Competitors fell on the ground in tears when they lost, whilst others fainted from the sheer stress combined with a refusal to drink water to maintain maximum definition of their muscles. From sideways glances in locker rooms ‘eyeing’ up the competition and more, these body builders defied the macho stereotypes projected, whilst desperately performing for their dream - an atypical one in the Middle Eastern region.

Ladies Who Rally (2012): Meet the Speed Sisters, the first all-female auto racing team and part of the Palestinian Motorsport and Motorcycle Federation. Composed of six women, the Speed Sisters represents the diversity of what Palestine has become. Racers hail from the fragmented corners of the West Bank and demonstrate the differences in lifestyle determined by the varied economic opportunities of cities divided by checkpoints, settlements, walls, and different ID cards.

Surviving Lebanon (2006) is a record of the immediate impact of the war on Lebanese children and their families, the devastation of homes and entire villages, recovery efforts, and those civilians returning home to absolute carnage. These images were taken whilst Tamara was on assignment for Bloomberg News.

Tanya states: ‘The rapid onslaught of war, sparked by Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers in a cross border raid, devastated Southern Lebanon, the southern suburbs of Beirut and a vast amount of civilian infrastructure. Thousands of Lebanese were displaced having fled under a barrage of pamphlets from Israeli warplanes advising them to leave their homes. Many Lebanese civilians did not survive the journey. An estimated 1,300 Lebanese died, while Israel lost 159 people, 118 of them soldiers and the rest killed by Hezbollah's rockets’.

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