The Stereoscopic Eye

Inessential views of art and photography.

She Who Tells a Story – Contemporary photography from Iran and the Arab World

Last summer we had the opportunity to discover established and emergent female photographers from the Middle East. The National Museum of Women in the Arts , Washington DC featured the exhibition “She Who Tells a Story”. Over 80 photographs and video installations by twelve artists originally brought together by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, allowed viewers to dive into contemporary stories of struggles, transitions and expectations lived by women in Iran and the Arab World. The focus of the exhibition and the selection of work was highly political. It preceded this time of even more extreme racism, bigotry and  misogyny in the US. The currency of the show is undeniable as it is the urgency of revisiting it.


Exhibition Catalogue by Kristen Gresh with a foreword by Michket Krifa

A theme that was common to most of the work showcased, was the question of authenticity and truth. Many of the visual artists interrogated both the ethos and the role of documentary image making. Rula Halawani ‘s large prints question the photographic truth by highlighting the alien nature of the political circumstances that define the mundane in her country. Rania Matar takes pictures of young women in their bedrooms. Her work is a visual delight as well as sociological exploration of contemporary femininity. Since then, we have seen her work featured in other exhibitions, photography festivals, photo-book sales and photography blogs. Last June, when I visited Rayko Photo Center (now sadly closed down), her work stood out from the walls as well as from the bookshelves. Perhaps due to her focus on stories of becoming, her work trespasses geographical and social boundaries. Plus, her portraits are BEAUTIFUL.

Rania Matar "A Girl and Her Room"

Beautiful, intimate portraits that surpass boundaries of all types.

The work of Shadi Ghadirian was Patri’s favourite. She found Ghadirian’s exploration of Iranian women very stimulating both visually and conceptually. Her work references all-time photography classics while adding a powerful layer of post-colonialism to it. Ghadirian’s women would navigate the traditional and the cutting edge effortlessly, if only the patriarchal and conservative frames imposed onto their realities would vanish.

Shadi Ghadirian

Patri will be exploring Shdi Ghadirian’s work in more depth, so keep an eye for the next post!

Jake found “The Hijab Series” by Boushra Almutawakel most compelling. Her prints were grouped together on a dimmed lit wall display. When entering the room in which they hung, visitors sighed with surprise when encountering the image below. It is undeniably powerful and very iconic. The series gains depth and relevance as it explores gender identity and religion not only through light and props, but more importantly through facial expressions (emotions). Her work interrogates social constructs from a place of empathy, irreverence and respectful playfulness, which is very very fresh.

Boushra Almutawakel's "The Hijab Series"

According to Jake, this was the most powerful photograph on the show.

Although the exhibition in itself is a political act, and a quite brave one, the question of gender beyond the hetero-normative binary was not really explored. However, several of the showcased photographers have done so in their work. Almutawakel timidly incorporates this question into her work, but you will need to visit her website to see those images, as they were not part of “She Who Tells a Story”. The same is true of Tanya Habjouqa‘s work, which includes a serious study of the trans community in the Middle East.

Tanya Habjouqa

Transvestites in the Holy Land – Work we would have like to see featured in the exhibition.

Kristen Gresh, the curator of the exhibition talks about the political relevance of the work that makes up the exhibition, as well as of the presence of war in all of it, albeit subtle at times.

“I’ve been following the contemporary photography scene in Iran and the Arab World for the past several years and the most powerful, provocative and compelling work I found is to be by women photographers”.

Kristen Gresh.

Listen to her talking about “She Who Tells a Story” at BBC Picture This.

The exhibition has been travelling since 2013 and it will open again on November 27th at the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario Canada.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on August 24, 2017 by in Art Photography, Exhibitions, Feminism, Reviews, USA and tagged , , , , .

Enter your email address to follow The Stereoscopic Eye and receive notifications of new posts by email.


%d bloggers like this: