Monday, 22 April 2013

Light from the Middle East: New Photography - Study visit

I've left it far too long to write up my thoughts on this study day. My notes now seem quite cryptic when I read them back - compounded by the fact that my handwriting has always been atrocious. I have an overwhelming sense of a day spent looking at images that dealt with political, religious and social oppression against women. I'm pretty sure there was work from both sexes on display and other cultural issues were explored also. The exhibition didn't overtly set out to only portray the role of women in the Middle East but these are the images I am left with after such a long space of time.

I don't know a great deal about Middle Eastern culture or the politics of the area so it is difficult to say anything without resorting to cliches really. There were some very interesting pieces of work and lots of contemporary practice was in evidence.

Raeda Saadeh’s ‘Who will make me real?’ is such a case. A striking image of a reclining woman, her body encased in a paper cast of newsprint as she gazes directly out at the viewer. The image was quite large almost full size in scale if my memory is correct. Comparisons have been made to the tradition of the Odalisque in art and this could clearly be seen in the work although the Arabic newsprint from a Western perspective only hinted at the content. The meaning of the text (possibly political events?) would have meant much more to an observer that could read them.

Taysir Batniji Watchtowers, West Bank / Palestine (2008) also got my attention. This artist produced a series of images of watchtowers. They reminded me of the precisely recorded typographical studies done by the Bechers - except that in contrast to this well known genre some of the images were out of focus or poorly framed. This brought an ironic smile to my face when I first encountered them and when I read the artist's statement I discovered that the photographer, a Palestinian, is restricted from travelling to the West Bank to make the photographs and therefore used another person as part of the artistic process. I was most interested in this idea and it reminded me somewhat of the days of the BBC using actors voices to get around the Thatcher government's restrictions on IRA terrorists being allowed to give interviews. I admit I know barely anything about the historical and contemporary politics of the region and it is the process itself that intrigued me. A lot of debate around the use of another person was generated on by students and one of the photography tutors. I liked the idea that the photographer had overcome political restrictions to make art.

I've been on a bit of an unintentional break from study since Easter (the mundane aspects of life such as the need to re-decorate my hallway have got in the way) and I have a backlog of gallery visits written up in note form that I really need to sit and down and turn into posts for this blog - not to mention the urgent need to make up for lost time with my course projects leading up to assignment 2.

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