x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

The untold tales

On the walls of the gallery are photographs taken by four Arab women from very different backgrounds and in very different styles, but their similarity is their vision.

The photographer Laura Boushnak is one of the women in the Rawiya exhibit. The words on the wall read: 'Society sees that education is for boys only, but, with perseverance and self-confidence, I shall change this unsound point of view.' Courtesy Laura Boushnak / Rawiya
The photographer Laura Boushnak is one of the women in the Rawiya exhibit. The words on the wall read: 'Society sees that education is for boys only, but, with perseverance and self-confidence, I shall change this unsound point of view.' Courtesy Laura Boushnak / Rawiya

The word “rawiya” can be translated to the phrase “she who tells a story”, and a swift glance around Gulf Photo Plus (GPP) in Alserkal Avenue this month tells a thousand stories.

On the walls of the gallery are photographs taken by four Arab women from very different backgrounds and in very different styles, but their similarity is their vision.

“Our work tries to show the people and places of our region from another angle to the one that people always see in the news. We want to bring out the more human side to them that nobody is really used to seeing,” explains Tamara Abdul Hadi, an Iraqi photographer whose work in this show focuses on the Palestinian refugees in Ramallah.

Self Portraits from Inside Palestine

With a simple act of effectively turning the camera around and allowing people to take their own image with a shutter-release cord, Abdul Hadi created a collection of self-portraits. “The idea came to me after I spent some time in the Palestinian refugee camps and saw so many outsiders coming in and photographing these people. They are under-represented people in a marginalised community and by allowing them to take their own image I was giving them the choice as to how they wanted to be represented.”

This doesn’t only happen in Palestine but all over the world, iterates Abdul Hadi, who is now based in Montreal and is planning a similar project there.

Occupied Pleasures

Another perspective of the life of Palestinians is presented in this show by Tanya Habjouqa – a Jordanian who has dedicated herself to a career in documentary photography of everyday scenes that happen alongside the chaos in the region’s conflict zones. By capturing an outdoor yoga class, children preparing for a party or a family picnic, Habjouqa has managed to reveal the fabric of society, away from the sometimes superficial aesthetics of hard news.

I Read, I Write

Moving across the gallery to Laura Boushnak’s series I Read, I Write reveals yet another story that tackles marginalisation but this time from the angle of education. Boushnak is a Palestinian who was born in Kuwait and covered news for the Associated Press in Lebanon before moving on to Agence France-Presse (AFP) at its Middle East hub in Cyprus and its Paris headquarters. For this series, she was inspired by a UN report that said that 50 per cent of Arab women cannot read or write, and so has visited a number of Arab countries addressing “the importance of education in enriching the lives of Arab women”.

So far she has been to Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Tunis and Yemen – the latter of which are displayed at GPP.

“I took portraits of the women who were the first in their family to go to university and asked them to write about how it feels,” she explains. “I am focusing on successful stories and I want to show women who could be role models to other women in the Arab world.”

Cairo Dances

In complete contrast to the niqab-clad women in Boushnak’s images, Myriam Abdelaziz shows the belly dancers of Cairo in a series of very honest and intimate studio portraits. Underneath each image is a quote about how they feel about their bodies.

“This also shows the contradiction of the region,” Boushnak says. “There are so many stories in our region and the beauty of Rawiya is that we all come from the region and we are all working on social issues in a different way.

“It is important to be able to put the work together and share it together because a lot of the topics go unnoticed by the mainstream media and this is a chance for us to focus on them.”

Rawiya: She Who Tells A Story will run until October 16 at Gulf Photo Plus in Alserkal Avenue

aseaman@thenational.ae