Arab Women Behind the Camera

Slippers, Mar Elias Camp, Beirut 2004. Rania Matar. Source

Slippers, Mar Elias Camp, Beirut 2004. Rania Matar. Source

Aquila Style recently featured five Arab women artists from Lebanon, Saudi and Yemen.

The article features three photographers (Lebanese Rania Matar, Yemeni Boushra Almutawakel, and Saudi Reem Al Faisal) as well as Lebanese film-maker Lamia Joreige, Saudi visual artist Sarah Abu Abdalla.

The focus on Arab women’s photography is interesting given that Arab photography in general has not been very much in the limelight – as this New York article notes, in its review of Samer Mohdad’s work, the photographer was once told that “Arab photography did not exist.” 

Initiatives like The Arab Image Foundation as well as the interest from organisations like Fotofest have done much to change this view – as have exhibitions such as She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World.

One explanation for the interest in women photographers in particular is the “novelty” factor – Middle Eastern women as more than ” a blur of grieving mothers and anonymous veiled (or fully covered) figures”

The Middle East makes headlines every day, yet women from the region rarely figure positively, or prominently, in our news reports. Arab womanhood can seem a blur of grieving mothers and anonymous veiled (or fully covered) figures in battle-ravaged urbanscapes.

Yet when Kristen Gresh was working as an art curator in Cairo 10 years ago, she “noticed that the most compelling work I was seeing was done by women photographers. I made a lot of exciting discoveries.”

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