x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Artist faces up to quest for true character of the region

The television news journalist Hermoine Macura has spent seven years photographing the people of the Middle East. She will exhibit her photos of the Middle East at Canary Wharf in London.

Hermoine Macura with some of her work at the Faces of the Middle East exhibition in Dubai earlier this week.
Hermoine Macura with some of her work at the Faces of the Middle East exhibition in Dubai earlier this week.

DUBAI // The television news journalist Hermoine Macura has spent seven years photographing the people of the Middle East, trying to capture the human face of a region that is often misunderstood in other parts of the world.

Now Ms Macura, a well-known figure on Dubai One's Emirates News, is about to take her quest a step further by exhibiting her work in the UK and the US.

She will be showing a selection of her photographs at Canary Wharf in London next month and August. And she is having discussions with a non-governmental organisation (NGO) about holding further shows in three US cities, though the arrangements have not yet been confirmed.

"The exhibitions would create cultural dialogue. The idea with the NGO is creating bridges of understanding between the East and the West; that's what we're looking at doing," she said. "We're talking about the locations now."

She had to boil down her collection of 10,000 photographs to fewer than 200 for her recently published book Faces of the Middle East. An exhibition of some of the photos from the book has just opened at the Corp Executive hotel at Al Barsha, and continues until June 28. Ms Macura also plans to exhibit her work in other countries in the region.

"Faces of the Middle East is a depiction of the different social and minority groups that exist in the Arab world," she said. "In the West, many people have never seen the different parts of the Arab world so they think everywhere here is pretty much the same. They don't realise there are different languages, different religions, different cultures and different social groups that have survived globalisation, persecution and over 40 wars in the past 20 years.

"I just wanted to publish something to help people understand things so they can come here.

"A lot of people who bought my book have said, 'I never would have travelled in the region if I hadn't seen your book; I would have been too afraid to go to Lebanon where all you see are bombs everywhere and people fighting'. That was what I really wanted to achieve."

Ms Macura, a 31-year-old Australian who moved to Dubai eight years ago, has been interested in the region since childhood.

"I've always had a fascination with the Arab world," she said. "Ever since I was very, very young I've followed the news here. It's a place where there was so much conflict and turmoil and misunderstanding. It's misrepresented, and I always wanted to come over here and explore the truth, what's actually here, and look at things like the desire for peace in the region.

"I wanted just to look into that a little bit more and understand what's really going on here. It's a passion, I didn't move here for the money or the expatriate lifestyle, I came to understand the people and the culture more."

In addition to photographs from the UAE there are studies shot in Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Iraq, Oman, Jordan and Egypt. Members of various religions are depicted as well. Ms Macura said she encountered one common quality across the region - hospitality. "Everywhere I went people opened up their homes. There were many times I was invited in by strangers to share a meal. Middle East hospitality is second to none. I've never seen anything like it in my life."

The UAE shots in the exhibition include two Emirati boys in Abu Dhabi, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and a UAE national with a robot jockey (used for camel racing) in Al Ain.

Other photos depict a man struggling with emotion while visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and a policeman whose Michael Jackson dance moves while directing traffic in Ramallah made him a YouTube sensation.

"I just loved the way he took so much pride in his job. I went to a lot of places looking for joy and happiness and how people survive amid turmoil and problems; the way people try to get on with daily life in a very difficult situation but still bring joy into other people's lives. It was so nice to see him like that."