Rather than constant news flashes about the political upheavals in the Middle East – a new photography show at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum gives a refreshing slant on the region’s struggles, all taken by Middle Eastern photographers.
The Iranian Newsha Tavakolian, 31, has photographed mums in 2006 holding photographs of their sons who were killed in the Iran-Iraq war during the Eighties; the Egyptian Nermine Hammam, 45, places soldiers she photographed during the protests in Cairo’s Tahir Square in 2011 into a technicolour fantasy world setting.
The internationally known Lebanese photographer Walid Raad, 45, has photographed two pages of a fictional notebook containing images of cars used as a car bomb in the civil wars in Lebanon. While Atiq Rahimi, 50, from Afghanistan has used a primitive box camera to take photographs of Kabul in 2002 after the fall of the Taliban.
The Collection has been developed since 2009 with the V&A and the British Museum, sponsored by the Art Fund, to address the under-representation of Middle Eastern photography in UK collections.
“I’m really pleased to be including work depicting the recent Egyptian revolution by Hammam, but in general I think it is too early to be looking for well-considered artistic responses to unfolding events because it is a time of great trauma,” says Dr Marta Weiss, Curator of Photographs at the V&A. “It took a decade or more to see interesting work being made relating to the events of the Lebanese civil war in 1975 to 1990. There are practical concerns too - it’s not necessarily the best circumstance for making art.”
As a prelude to the show are a series of images of the Iranian revolution taken in the late Seventies by the Iranian Magnum photojournalist Abbas, 68, but otherwise the show largely records the last decade.
It’s not all war torn memories either – the Iranian Shadi Ghadirian, 38, recreates 19th century Iranian studio portraits updating them with contemporary props including sun glasses and Pepsi. The Iranian Mehraneh Atashi, 32, has entered the world of the Iranian gym, which is banned to women – inserting herself in the photographs by using mirrors.
“Conflict is one of several themes that comes up in the photographs, but it is not a show about war or current events - it’s a show about photography.”
Light from the Middle East: New Photography’ Victoria and Albert Museum, London SW7 (www.vam.ac.uk) 13 November to 7 April 2013