“Alia Ali (1985) is a Yemeni-Bosnian-American multi-media artist”. Her work with fabric and thread is present throughout her entire body of work, referencing home as a cultural arena with an emotional dimension that goes back to the affective labour of women (and in some parts of the world men as well). Below an excerpt of her statement from the project BORDERLAND.
The characters in the portraits, called -cludes, are wrapped in layers of fabric from eleven regions of the world that shield them from interrelating with anything beyond the material. Who is on the other side of the fabric questions the very nature of belonging and interrogates the binary of home and exile. Is the subject the one who imposes the standards, the decision maker, the ‘include’? Or the ‘exclude’? In the human act of processing our surroundings, we unconsciously categorize. We separate good from evil; familiar from unfamiliar; threat from safety; alien from native… We, influenced by categorizations create these dichotomies ourselves. The theme of duality extends to questioning the moment in which the mysterious becomes apparent, freedom becomes restraint, and illusion becomes reality. Seeing is an act of power, but so is being seen. Are the -cludes hiding or are they being hidden? Is it an active form of anonymity or a passive one? When confronting the -cludes, we are forced to confront the ways we include and exclude others in our daily lives. Is exclusion motivated by a primitive fear and search for security? A form of self-preservation? A metamorphosis of the outcast into villain?
In the context of a conversation with Lizzy Vartanian Collier, the author’s discourses evidences not only the importance of her cultural heritage but also how such a connection, (in the context of a civilized world that never ceased to be at war) can accentuate the frontiers between the idea of “us” and “the other”. It’s a complex subject and often authors step into the vary same rhetoric they try to subvert.
My Yemeni grandmother communicated through her textiles, namely embroidery, dyeing, and weaving. They are a form of documenting stories and occurrences, be they tribal, historical, religious, cosmic, and/or mythical. We have an oral history that was not written by us, but by our British colonizers. So the damage was immediately done as it was put on paper in a language that wasn’t ours by people who weren’t us. Our stories were never written on our terms, and to me these dresses and textiles are documents of how we see our culture, our heritage, and ourselves. In the Yemen series, specifically, I’m reclaiming this stance by looking at Yemen through its beauty rather than its suffering. It is only through this lens that we can know what is at stake during the systematic erasure of Yemeni communities and heritage, which is not only being wounded but [is] permanently scarred by imprints of power and destruction.
“Omar Imam (Damascus, 1979) is an Amsterdam-based, Syrian photographer and Rijksakademie artist.” His work engages with the harsh reality of his circumstances and those of the people around them. However approaching the darkness, he chooses to stage photographs that often deal with the consequences of war but signal the potential of the life lived out in our dreams. Though his photographs shift in style and maturity, his series Live, Love, Refugee is surprisingly playful, particularly given the material he works with. Eric Gottesman called it Humanitarian Surrealism. An excerpt from his essay about Omar Iman’s series below:
In Omar Imam’s work, there are no solutions. His pictures, different in composition as well as intention, directly question the conventions of “humanitarian photography.” He often sets his pictures in front of the ubiquitous white tents that appear in photographs distributed by the NGOs and UN agencies that run the camps in northern Lebanon in which he works. In his photographs, the tents do not represent shelter provided by the global community; rather, they are curtains in front of which is revealed the theater of life.
Imam’s dreamlike photographs vacillate between mundane documents and utterly inconceivable scenarios. They cannot possibly have happened and yet here they are. Unlike “humanitarian photography”—which, moving as it is, reinforces the imagination of anonymous masses of suffering refugees—the impact in the grass picture comes not so much from knowing that the people in it are displaced (though they are) so much as from realizing that the viewer’s imagination can be reordered. Imam directs the viewer with precision. The images do not depict a situation so much as they seem to expand the space and time of the subjects’ reality, thus giving the viewer a way in.
“Thana Faroq is a Yemeni documentary photographer and storyteller, based in the Netherlands.” Her work deals with different issues deriving from violence – inflicted by human beings in general, and men in particular. Women are certainly a concern of hers and they come under focus in some of her series. Below a few images from her recent project The Passport.
In “The Passport,” the Yemeni photographer Thana Faroq documents her own journey fleeing her country for a new life in the Netherlands. She also juxtaposes black-and-white portraits of other refugees with handwritten letters in which they shared their experiences. Source: The New York Times.
“Eric Gottesman photographs, writes, makes videos, teaches and uses art as a vehicle to explore aesthetic, social and political culture.” His projects function like enterprises, involving communities, institutions, exhibition venues, presentations, conferences, etc. However, featured bellow is a project that seems less ambitious but strongly engaging with the struggles of using photography to represent complex social issues.