She Who Tells a Story, by Vikki Tobak
According to photographer Lalla Essaydi, “Beauty is dangerous.” This can be all too true when you consider that Arab and Iranian women are creating some of the most significant photographic work in the region today. Essaydi’s provocative work is among the 80 photographs and a video installation, featured in a new exhibition going beyond the complexities of womanhood in the Middle East to focus a wider lens on themes of identity, war, occupation, and protest in the region.
Opened on April 8th, 2016 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, in Washington DC, “She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and The Arab World” takes us into Iran and the Arab world through the perspective of twelve women photographers.
The Middle East has always been a complex region to document. The works in this exhibition don’t give in to lazy stereotypes, opting instead for nuanced depictions of geopolitical complexities to deconstruct Orientalism, or stereotypes of the Middle East to depict stories beyond religious extremism and terrorism. Several of the women in the show come from a photojournalist background.
The exhibition also contextualizes the role of women photographers in the 2011 uprisings across the Middle East that would become known as the Arab Spring. That same year, a collective of female Middle Eastern photographers was formed calling themselves Rawiya, an Arabic word meaning “storyteller” or “She who tells a story.” Focusing a female gaze onto stories from the Middle East couldn’t come at a better time. These are accounts that challenge western stereotypes of contemporary Middle East culture and feminism and invite the viewer to look several layers deeper into what it means when women tell their own stories. The diverse and nuanced depictions of these female narratives in the show prove, through documentation and artistry, to represent a truly universal story.
The exhibition features artists Jananne Al-Ani, Boushra Almutawakel, Gohar Dashti, Rana El Nemr, Lalla Essaydi, Shadi Ghadirian, Tanya Habjouqa, Rula Halawani, Nermine Hammam, Rania Matar, Shirin Neshat, and Newsha Tavakolian and is on view until July 31st, 2016.