New Biennale brings photographers from the Arab world into the limelight

Wafaa Samir, “Ramadan”, Egypte, 2013 © Wafaa Samir
Wafaa Samir, “Ramadan”, Egypte, 2013 © Wafaa Samir

Last week the new Biennale of Photography in the Contemporary Arab World opened its first edition in Paris. The event provides an unique overview of the contemporary photographers who have been working in —or whose work has involved— the Arab World since the beginning of the 2000s. Now more than ever, the Biennale aims to challenge stereotypes and highlight the diverse nature of modern Arab society.   

The first edition of this biennial exhibition is a joint initiative of the Institut du Monde Arabe and the Maison Européenne de la Photographie. The idea came from France’s former culture minister, Jack Lang, who two years ago became president of the Arab World Institute, a co-organizer of the exhibition. “I think that knowledge and culture are the best weapons to overturn prejudices about the Arab world,” said Mr. Lang. “My ambition is for the Biennale to show different version of the Arab world” from the one represented by Islamic State.

The Biennale exhibits 160 works by 44 artists across eight venues in Paris. The exhibitions will present two perceptions of the Arab world: from within the Arab world—how Arab photographers view their countries—and an external perspective provided by ‘foreign’ photographers. The event will present a diversity of approaches and subjects via the various forms of contemporary photography: from documentary works to more openly artistic works.

Issue de la série Wadi as-Salam, Irak 2012 © Tamara Abdul Hadi

From the series Wadi as-Salam, Irak 2012. © Tamara Abdul Hadi

The show includes 18 female photographers. Artists like Myriam Abdelaziz, Tamara Abdul Hadi, Mouna Saboni, Wafaa Samir and Leila Alaoui. “Female photographers are making a name for themselves”, comments Gabriel Bauret, one of the two curators. “They have chosen this medium to express their point of view on cultural and social subjects, overturning the cliché of photography as a man’s world.”

"Menya's Kids", on child labour in Egypt, 2013. Exhibited at the IMA. © Myriam Abdelaziz

“Menya’s Kids”, on child labour in Egypt, 2013. Exhibited at the IMA. © Myriam Abdelaziz

”Fear”, Egypt, 2015. Exhibited at the IMA. © Mouna Saboni

“Fear”, Egypt, 2015. Exhibited at the IMA. © Mouna Saboni

The Institut du Monde Arabe presents a collective exhibition with the theme “Contemporary History”. It highlights the work of 29 experienced and emerging photographic artists. The artists in question, who originate from Arab and European countries, are highly mobile. They have a strong need to experience their subject matter first hand  and train their lenses wherever they wish, and do not hesitate to step outside familiar territory. Avoiding any attempt to provide a comprehensive overview or highlight specific traits that are likely to characterise the art of photography in Arab countries, the exhibition places emphasis on the visions of the photographers: Mehdi Medacci and Lazare Djeddaoui in Syria, Amélie Debray in Palestine, Diana Matar in Libya, and Hicham Gardaf in Tangier are more than just observers. They are deeply involved with their subject matter and prefer to produce a series of images rather than a single work. Their images reflect the recent political and social history in Arab countries, and contain all the associated changes and contradictions.

Un couple regardant la mer au crépuscule, Tanger 2014 © Hicham Gardaf Courtesy Galerie 127

“Un couple regardant la mer au crépuscule” [A couple watching the sea at dusk], Tangier 2014. © Hicham Gardaf – Courtesy Galerie 127

This way, the general public will discover the wealth and diversity of the viewpoints of these artists, who work both inside and outside the Arab world. Creating a genuine visual language and observing the world from a distance, they reflect the contemporary trend in photography, which combines art with a documentary approach.

Zawiya migrant detention centre, 2014. Exhibited at the IMA. © Samuel Gratacap, Courtesy of the Galerie du Jour – Agnès b, Paris

Zawiya migrant detention centre, 2014. Exhibited at the IMA. © Samuel Gratacap, Courtesy of the Galerie du Jour – Agnès b, Paris

Through various themes such as Paysages, Intérieurs, Identités, Mémoires et récits [Landscapes, Interiors, Identities, Memories and stories], the works in this exhibition evoke both the history of photography and the history of individuals and societies.

Amine Landoulsi Silence, ça tourne © Amine Landousli

“Silence, ça tourne” [Silence, camera, action]. © Amine Landousli

Participants: Mohamed Abusal, Jananne Al-Ani, Farah Al Qasimi, Tamara Abdul Hadi, Myriam Abdelazi, George Awde, Faycal Baghriche, Nabil Boutros, Christian Courrèges, Amélie Debray, Lazare Mohamed Djeddaoui, Anne-Marie Filaire, Hicham Gardaf, Lamya Gargash, Samuel Gratacap, Tanya Habjouqa, Emy Kat, Joe Kesrouani, Yazan Khalili, Amine Landoulsi, Diana Matar, Mehdi Meddaci, Amr Nabil, Malik Nejmi, Khalil Nemmaoui, Giulio Rimondi, Mouna Saboni, Steve Sabella, Wafaa Samir.

La Maison Européenne de la Photographie presents six solo exhibitions related to the Arab world. Leila Alaoui (Les Marocains, Morocco), Andrea & Magda (Sinai Park, Egypt), Daoud Aoulad (Syad, Morocco), Bruno Barbey (Retrospective), Massimo Berruti (La crise de l’eau à Gaza et en Cisjordanie, Palestine,) Stéphane Couturier (Climat de France, Algiers, Algeria).

Moulay Ismail Mausoleum, Meknes, Morocco, 1985. Exhibited at the MEP. © Bruno Barbey / Magnum Photos

Moulay Ismail Mausoleum, Meknes, Morocco, 1985. Exhibited at the MEP. © Bruno Barbey / Magnum Photos

“Drops”, the water crisis in Gaza and the West Bank, Palestine, 2015. Exhibited at the MEP. © Massimo Berruti

“Drops”, the water crisis in Gaza and the West Bank, Palestine, 2015. Exhibited at the MEP. © Massimo Berruti

"Climat de France, Alger", 2014 © Stéphane Couturier

“Climat de France, Alger” [French Climate, Algiers], 2014. © Stéphane Couturier

The Biennale runs until January 17, 2016. More information here.

Comments

Leave a Reply