True to life? Photography from the Middle East. Birmingham Art Gallery

26th October 2014 . Visit to the Birmingham Art Gallery this morning to see a very interesting exhibition of Middle Eastern photography.

The exhibition featured an eclectic mix of photographic styles that explore identity, stereotypical attitudes , and images that frequently merge past and present as a way of exploring Middle Eastern culture and questioning preconceived ideas about it.

Hassan Hajjaj (Moroccan)
http://www.taymourgrahne.com/artists/hassan-hajjaj#24 
Web Accessed 29/10/2014

The highly saturated photographs , which are rather interestingly placed in frames made of recycled materials, are of women traditionally dressed but look like images from a typical fashion shoot, a fusion of Western and Arabic culture. The images subvert biased observations of Arabic women.  

Jana Ina Angels 2000 
The four females , young, confident , and thoroughly modern women ,  pose like models from Vogue in their traditional clothing . The frame is made from bottles , aluminium cans and aerosols.

Saida in Green 2000
http://www.vam.ac.uk/users/node/18051
Web Accessed 29/10/2014

A very visually striking image with a bold green background in a recycled frame made of black rubber , it stood out immediately when entering the room. The heavy eye make up , hennaed hands , designer scarf worn in a traditional manner are symbolic of two divergent cultures and how modern Arabic women embrace both. This is one of my favourite images from the exhibition.

Shadi Ghadirian ( Iranian )
http://www.wipnyc.org/blog/shadi-ghadirian
http://shadighadirian.com/index.php?do=photography&id=9#item-1
Web Accessed 29/10/2014

In contrast to the colourful images of Hassan Hajjaj  the images from Shadi Ghadirian’s 1998  series Quajar) look like traditional photographs from a bygone era. Sepia toned photographs in A3 frames printed to about 7×5 they have , on first glance, an orthodox appearance , but look closer and there is a clever merge of past and present. Hand painted traditional backdrops and clothing are juxtaposed with modern props–pepsi cans , sun glasses , books , a bike , even a vacuum.  The women may appear conventional but the images suggest their hidden inner desires, ambitions and expectations , that their customary way of life may deny them.

Newsha Tavakolian (Iranian )
http://www.newshatavakolian.com/#a=0&at=0&mi=2&pt=1&pi=10000&s=2&p=3 
Web accessed 30/10/2014

Mothers of Martyrs 2006
These are such powerful portraits of bereaved elderly women holding framed prints of their dead sons. The Iranian boys , they are barely men , died during the 1980-88 Iran – Iraq war. So much pathos in a single frame.

Youssef Nabil (Egyptian)
http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=3274694&partId=1&place=37266&plaA=37266-2-2&page=1

http://www.artfund.org/supporting-museums/art-weve-helped-buy/artwork/12116/the-yemeni-sailors-of-south-shields-art-fund-collection-of-middle-eastern-photography-youssef-nabil 
Web accessed 30/10/2014

The Yemeni Sailors of South Shields 2006   
I was very surprised to learn that there had been a community of Yemen ship workers living in Tyneside since the 1890’s . My mum is a Geordie ( long exiled though ) and from visits there in the late 50’s and early 60’s I cannot recall seeing any Middle Eastern men (or women ) working or living in the area, this series disproves my pre-conception about the North East of England as being more intolerant towards Muslim communities. The men portrayed in this series are the last generation of ship workers. The silver gelatin prints are hand coloured , reflecting a bygone era. The elderly men wear a mix of clothing , a blend of past and present , that not only reveals their assimilation into a typical English Northern working class neighbourhood but also communicates a long lasting link with their heritage.

Raeda Saadel (Palestinian)
http://www.vam.ac.uk/users/node/18052
Web accessed 30/10/2014

Who will make me real ? 2003
A large scale digital C type print . The self-portrait is a parody of 19th Century oriental imagery.  The artist reclines seductively , but any pretence of eroticism is corrupted by her outfit of Palestinian newspapers with news of deaths in Gaza 2003. A thought provoking image.

Atiq Rahimi ( Afghan )
http://www.vam.ac.uk/users/sites/default/files/rahimi.jpg 
Web accessed 12/11/204

As an exile from his homeland for 22 years on his return the country had been ravaged and altered by war. Using a simple box camera he recorded how war had altered his homeland. The images are ethereal , evocative , otherworldly and nostalgic , perhaps representing a longing for what has been lost forever  .
The 3 x 2 prints that were displayed in A4 frames.

Mehraneh Atashi ( Iranian )
http://www.mehranehatashi.com/slideshow-zoor.html
Web accessed 12/11/2014

An usual self-portrait from a series , a large scale printed digital C type. The female photographer can be just seen in a small proportion of the frame , with her camera , recording the scene.  The image is of a traditional 16th century gym , a  male only environment. Including herself in the frame Atashi asks questions the role of a female in a male dominated society , roles that are increasingly being challenged in modern Iran.

Mohamed Bourouissa (Algerian)
http://www.we-find-wildness.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/large-mb-08.jpeg
Web accessed 12/11/2014

A staged image on a Parisian ring road that reflects on migration. The image suggests unease , isolation and has I feel a slightly threatening mood.

Baham Jalali (Iranian)
http://www.vam.ac.uk/users/node/18049
Web accessed 12/11/2014

Image of Imagination 2003
You needed to look very carefully at this  large scale C type  montage that merges time and space . An intriguing image , one that I kept returning to , the more you look the more it reveals.

I have also scanned my quickly written notes  — see below-very scrappy & probably totally illegible to anyone else!!!

Scan 1ScanScan 2Scan 3Scan 4Scan 5Scan 6Scan 7Scan 8

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