Saudi Aramco World September/October 2014 - page 11

September/October 2014
To many, the phrase “photography
from the Middle East” has generally
meant little more than news images
from conflict zones. This limiting
perception has changed markedly
over the last decade, as photograph-
ic art from the Middle East and
North Africa has become one of the
brightest new stars in the contempo-
rary art constellation.
Although its roots go back much
farther—arguably to the very be-
ginning of photography itself—the
entry of Middle East contemporary
photo-art onto the world stage can be dated to 2004, when
the prestigious annual Noorderlicht photography festival in
the Netherlands devoted itself to the Arab world with an exhi-
bition called “Nazar” (“Look”). While at the time it may have
appeared as a one-off, boutique-theme show, it planted the
seeds for a flowering of interest in photographic art both inside
and outside the Middle East that matured alongside other me-
dia in contemporary art.
In 2012, London’s Victoria & Albert Museum mounted
“Light from the Middle East,” a survey of more than 30 pho-
tographers from the region. The following year, Liverpool’s
Look Festival put on “I Exist in Some Way,” a significant exhibi-
tion of Middle East photography, while in the
, Boston’s Mu-
seum of Fine Arts exhibited “She Who Tells a Story,” the first
major show of women photographers from the Middle East.
Most recently, in
March, the bien-
nial FotoFest in
Houston show-
cased photographic art by 49
artists from the Arab world,
one of the largest exhibitions
of Arab art of any kind. It was
especially notable for showing
12 artists from Saudi Arabia,
now one of the fastest-growing
photo-art scenes in the region.
In addition to these high-
profile shows, group and solo
exhibitions of Middle Eastern
photo-artists have become almost commonplace in public and
private galleries around the world. But why is contemporary pho-
tographic art from this part of the world commanding such atten-
tion? To find out, I sought insights from six of the region’s most
prominent photographic artists as well as art-world experts.
was one of the stand-out exhibitors at
the 2004 “Nazar” show, and today she is one of the most suc-
cessful artists working in any medium from the Arab world. Her
photographs are held in dozens of major public and private col-
lections. In common with many photo-artists from the Middle
East and North Africa, Essaydi has an in-depth, lived experience
of the broader world beyond the region.
Rula Halawani,
“Traces” series,
2013. Photographic
prints, courtesy of
Selma Feriani
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