“The first major exhibition of contemporary photography from and about the Middle East, Light from the Middle East: New Photography features over 90 works by some of the most exciting artists from across the region.” (From V&A website) On at the V&A from 13 November 2012 – 7 April 2013.
Recording, Reframing, Resisting
Organised into three sections, Recording, Reframing, and Resisting, the exhibition covers contemporary photography from North Africa to Central Asia. Each section refers to a different approach used in making contemporary photographic images, particularly in the context of the Middle East, where documentary tactics in art prevails.
Of note here is the way the photographer herself appears in the frame as she takes the picture, unusually so for a woman to be seen without her hijab (veil) as well as in a place normally the domain of men (a zurkhana or a wrestler’s gym). “The artist has explained that ‘tradition forbids the breath of women’ in the zurkhana.”
This is one in a series of work by Hajjaj, a Morroccan artist living in London. Works like these are an “… exuberant collision of the stereotypical symbols of western consumerism and Middle Eastern tradition.” I think they’re quite amusing, even with the seriousness behind them.
Same goes for these by Shadi Ghadirian, who in her work “”…addresses concerns of Iranian women of her generation, exploring ideas such as censorship, religion and modernity, often with a wry humour.” Funny stuff and I especially liked that it took a minute to see the joke.
In these works, artists”…question the idea that a photograph can tell the truth.” Saudi artist, Jowhara AlSaud’s works “…explore the language of censorship and the malleability of photography… [in which her] hybrid technique of drawing and photography critiques the censorship of visual communication in Saudi Arabia.” I found these particularly compelling in that the unsaid can be much more powerful than what is spoken out loud.
Couldn’t resist this one; who doesn’t secretly love a bit of Bryan Adams? There is a teenage rebel in all of us, even in Iranian teenage rebels.
To be honest, I didn’t have high expectations of this exhibition; I’m not a huge fan of photographic art to begin with, and at the very least, I figured there would be a lot of politics and a lot of male artists and/or subject matter. I admit I was pleased and surprised to see the depth of many of the works, as I was to see a lot of women’s voices represented. If space allowed, I think that the exhibition could’ve had hundreds of works, and viewers would have seen something new and interesting at every turn.
Nonetheless, I think the works chosen illustrated very well the kind of work being done in the Middle East right now, as well as the relevant subject-matter. From my limited experience, it seems that Western and non-Western art are both at a very different point of maturity, probably due to the very different cultural concerns. What I mean is, Western art has already been through the period(s) of Renaissance and discovery, and so forth, having already discovered decades ago what photography can be as an art form, etc. Now, regions such as the Middle East are not ready to go beyond their present cultural situation in order to discover something new about art. Their work doesn’t seem to be able to exist as “art for art’s sake” [yet] because it has a lot on the plate to serve as both an expression of the artist as well as a comment on the political climate or social issues around the artist.
This exhibition was thoughtfully considered, meaningful and still left room for more research and discovery. There are a lot of artists here that I will be researching further.
- Light from the Middle East – New Photography on V&A website
- Review of Light from the Middle East by Laura Cumming of The Guardian “The strongest images here fuse the politics with the aesthetics to profound effect.”
- Review of Light from the Middle East by Florence Waters of the Telegraph – 2/5 stars “…not only very slight, but it’s also intent on proving photography is a dangerous and untrustworthy medium.”
- Review of Light from the Middle East by Peter Popham of The Independent – 4/5 stars “…complex, intense, highly charged – in short, a string of improvised explosive devices which shock and stimulate at every turn.”
- Review of Light from the Middle East by Surabhi Khanna of New Statesman “…fascinating to see how the presence of these techniques in Middle Eastern photographic practice has created a visual language for viewpoints on a variety of issues including: the conflict between tradition and modern consumer culture and censorship…”
- Review of Light from the Middle East by Sue Steward of Evening Standard – 4/5 stars “…offer[s] insight into how photography is being used for political and cultural expression, empowerment and liberation. Politics, not surprisingly, dominates.”
Exhibition details: Light from the Middle East at the V&A runs from 13 Nov 2012 through 7 April 2013, admission free.